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A bottom-up institutional approach to cooperative governance of risky commons


Avoiding the effects of climate change may be framed as a public goods dilemma1, in which the risk of future losses is non-negligible2,3,4,5,6,7, while realizing that the public good may be far in the future3,7,8,9. The limited success of existing attempts to reach global cooperation has been also associated with a lack of sanctioning institutions and mechanisms to deal with those who do not contribute to the welfare of the planet or fail to abide by agreements1,3,10,11,12,13. Here we investigate the emergence and impact of different types of sanctioning to deter non-cooperative behaviour in climate agreements. We show that a bottom-up approach, in which parties create local institutions that punish free-riders, promotes the emergence of widespread cooperation, mostly when risk perception is low, as it is at present3,7. On the contrary, global institutions provide, at best, marginal improvements regarding overall cooperation. Our results clearly suggest that a polycentric approach involving multiple institutions is more effective than that associated with a single, global one, indicating that such a bottom-up, self-organization approach, set up at a local scale, provides a better ground on which to attempt a solution for such a complex and global dilemma.

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Figure 1: Group achievement ηGand institutions prevalence ηI.
Figure 2: Behaviour of the CRD in the full configuration space with three strategies—Cs, Ps and Ds—for the same parameters as in Fig. 1 and low risk (r = 0.2).
Figure 3: Behaviour of the CRD in the full configuration space with three strategies: Cs, Ps and Ds.


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The authors thank F. L. Pinheiro for useful discussions. This research was supported by FCT-Portugal through grants SFRH/BD/86465/2012, PTDC/FIS/101248/2008 and PTDC/MAT/122897/2010, by multi-annual funding of CMAF-UL and INESC-ID (under the project PEst-OE/EEI/LA0021/2013) provided by FCT-Portugal, and Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian through the Stimulus to Research programme for young researchers.

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V.V.V., F.C.S. and J.M.P. have contributed equally to this work: they all designed and performed the research, analysed the data and wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Jorge M. Pacheco.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Vasconcelos, V., Santos, F. & Pacheco, J. A bottom-up institutional approach to cooperative governance of risky commons. Nature Clim Change 3, 797–801 (2013).

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