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A bargaining game analysis of international climate negotiations

Nature Climate Change volume 4, pages 442445 (2014) | Download Citation

  • An Addendum to this article was published on 27 August 2014

This article has been updated


Climate negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change have so far failed to achieve a robust international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Game theory has been used to investigate possible climate negotiation solutions and strategies for accomplishing them1. Negotiations have been primarily modelled as public goods games such as the Prisoner’s Dilemma2, though coordination games or games of conflict have also been used3,4. Many of these models have solutions, in the form of equilibria, corresponding to possible positive outcomes—that is, agreements with the requisite emissions reduction commitments5,6. Other work on large-scale social dilemmas suggests that it should be possible to resolve the climate problem7,8,9. It therefore seems that equilibrium selection10 may be a barrier to successful negotiations. Here we use an N-player bargaining game in an agent-based model with learning dynamics to examine the past failures of and future prospects for a robust international climate agreement. The model suggests reasons why the desirable solutions identified in previous game-theoretic models have not yet been accomplished in practice and what mechanisms might be used to achieve these solutions.

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Change history

  • 08 August 2014

    In the Supplementary Information file for this Letter, the authors have added a section titled “Description of simulation procedure”, which provides a detailed account of the primary simulation procedure used in the study. This section is intended to allow others to directly replicate the results, and contains some detail and accompanying explanation omitted from the original version. The revised version also includes notational corrections to the proof of Proposition 1.


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Author information


  1. Department of Philosophy & Religion, Northeastern University, 360 Huntington Ave Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA

    • Rory Smead
    • , Ronald L. Sandler
    •  & John Basl
  2. Department of Philosophy, Tufts University, 14 Upper Campus Road Medford, Massachusetts 02155, USA

    • Patrick Forber


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R.L.S. and R.S. oversaw the project. R.S. and P.F. developed the models and ran simulations. R.L.S. and J.B. analysed the status of current climate negotiations and policy. R.L.S., R.S., P.F. and J.B. jointly developed how to apply the model to climate negotiations, derived general recommendations and wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rory Smead.

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