A New Textbook Example
by Courtney Shephard -- December 14th, 2009
Today’s impasse exemplifies the collective action problem.
As you may have heard, negotiations and plenary sessions have been suspended at COP15 until further notice. The cause? An African-led protest against talk of changing the commitments to and/or moving beyond the Kyoto Protocol from industrialized nations. It is important to note that African nations are not alone in this protest, the G77-China bloc of 130 nations is backing the suspension. UN officials are frantically working to mediate and get the talks back on track.
It’s not as if this is a surprise. Finding a solution to climate change is the biggest collective action problem that the world has ever faced. For those who are not familiar with the term, collective action refers to the pursuit of goals by more than one person. A collective action problem occurs when two or more people are unable to accomplish these goals because of the problems inherent in working together – collaboration, cooperation, motivation, differences in perspective, transactions costs…the list continues. Imagine trying to decide how to divide up responsibility for a messy house among yourself and a few friends. Now, multiply that situation by 6.8 billion. See the problem? And that simple example does not account for compounding effects, differences in resources and power, and past actions.
Let’s just say that there is a reason why the COP15 logo looks like a gigantic ball of tangled string.