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Climate Change and Common SenseEssays in Honour of Tom Schelling$
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Robert W. Hahn and Alistair Ulph

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199692873

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199692873.001.0001

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Credible Commitments, Focal Points, and Tipping

Credible Commitments, Focal Points, and Tipping

The Strategy of Climate Treaty Design

(p.29) 3 Credible Commitments, Focal Points, and Tipping
Climate Change and Common Sense

Scott Barrett

Oxford University Press

Why have the climate negotiations failed? How might we do better? This chapter answers these questions by relying on three of Tom Schelling's greatest insights—the importance of, and difficulty in, making credible commitments; the value of framing negotiations in a way that suggests focal points; and the role that tipping can play in creating positive feedbacks for emission reductions and treaty participation. The climate regime developed so far has failed to provide a credible enforcement mechanism, was framed in a way that made agreement difficult, and has stimulated negative rather than positive feedbacks. This is why so little has been achieved, despite so much having been invested in the negotiations. To do better, our approach must change. Our focus should be on negotiating obligations that can be enforced, on framing the negotiations to facilitate agreement, and on identifying sources of leverage for positive feedbacks. The chapter suggests ways in which we can do all of these things, as well as expressing doubt as to whether we can do enough to avoid possible catastrophes. As in other areas that have attracted Professor Schelling's attention, even the best policy cannot be sure of averting danger. There are no guarantees, only better or worse choices.

Keywords:   climate negotiations, credibility, tipping, agreements

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