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Human Cooperation to Protect the Global Commons

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - HUCO (Human Cooperation to Protect the Global Commons)

Reporting period: 2020-02-01 to 2021-01-31

Human activities are now the major driver of change in the biosphere, including the climate, the water cycle, and the distribution of species and biodiversity – with adverse effects that range across local, regional, and global scales. At the same time, people are fundamentally dependent on the capacity of the biosphere to provide services for human wellbeing. As the human population and capita consumption continue to grow, our impacts on the biosphere are likely to intensify and threaten to exceed certain planetary boundaries. Political efforts to mitigate these developments have largely failed, highlighting the difficulty of cooperation at the global level.
The goal of the HUCO project has been to systematically study large-scale human cooperation and develop strategies to protect our global environment. For this purpose, HUCO has used a comprehensive and genuinely interdisciplinary approach, combining theoretical, experimental, evolutionary, and empirical methods. These methods are excellent tools to study human cooperation and, importantly, they complement each other in our endeavor to study complex human behavior.
Existing contacts to the world's best scientists in the area of international cooperation have been intensified during the project and new contacts have been established. The research results have been disseminated widely and made available to policy makers, the scientific community, and the general public.
From the beginning of the project, the team has worked on the analysis of case studies, the development of theoretical models, the conduct and evaluation of behavioral experiments with various subject pools, the conduct and evaluation of surveys with various subject pools, the empirical analysis of international environmental agreements, and the development of evolutionary models and simulations. The case studies considered include climate change, biodiversity loss, ozone depletion, pollution of the high seas by ships, water allocation in river basins between upstream and downstream states, protection of internationally shared water bodies like the Black Sea, and the linkage of environmental protection and international trade.
This work has produced a number of valuable datasets that can continue to be used for future research: datasets containing contact details of climate negotiators, climate scientists, biodiversity negotiators, biodiversity scientists, and stakeholders involved in the management of the Black Sea, as well as datasets on international rivers and water basins that include variables on water quality, geography, characteristics and policies of bordering states, and the existence of water agreements. The conduct of experiments and surveys has also resulted in a large number of datasets that have been or will be published for replication or further studies.
To date the project has produced 12 articles published in international peer-reviewed journals and 19 papers that are in draft or working paper form or in the review process of international journals. The research carried out in HUCO has been presented at over 100 international scientific conferences, workshops, or seminars (in- and outside the EU). Two presentations were organized at official Side Events of the UNFCCC Conferences to communicate the projects results to policy makers, practitioners, and stakeholders. Additionally, local and nationwide news outlets have covered the project or research results.
The main goals have been, first, to investigate the extent to which large-scale cooperation problems differ from small-scale cooperation problems, second, to apply and combine multiple methods to study human cooperation, and, third, to derive implications for the protection of the global commons.
Regarding the first objective, we have conducted a series of experiments to better understand if and how groups respond differently to interventions than individuals. An important conclusion of this work is that group behavior is more difficult to influence than individual behavior, especially when soft mechanisms are used, based on internal motivations such as reputation, guilt, approval seeking or disapproval avoidance, making more stringent measures necessary for groups. Furthermore, we have studied the endogenous formation of institutions for a better understanding of large-scale cooperation. Importantly, we have focused on institutions that are chosen and implemented by the actors involved rather than imposed from the outside because there is no outside for international problems. Our research shows that the preconditions for successful cooperation are fundamentally different from the factors identified by previous literature on small-scale cooperation. Strategic skills are more important than cooperativeness, with negotiators setting the institutional framework to minimize the need for voluntary cooperation.
With regard to the second objective, a large part of our work has again focused on the formation and impact of institutions. We first conducted a meta-study to evaluate all existing experimental research on the endogenous formation of institutions, which among other things shows that standard economic theory has weak explanatory power for the choice of institutions. We then investigated whether the experimental results could be better explained by an evolutionary model, which is indeed the case. The results also show the importance of social learning, information about other actors and groups, and intergenerational memory. The findings can explain, for instance, why institutions that are generally seen as successful, such as the EU or the UN, can nevertheless be at risk of losing support. The combination of case studies, theoretical modeling, experimental investigations, and evolutionary simulations has proven to be highly valuable in the project and beyond. To verify the research results with regard to their methodological robustness, we have used diverse samples of participants in the experiments and surveys, including students, representative national samples, and international samples of negotiators and scientists. Studies with the latter samples are particularly difficult to implement and therefore especially valuable.
Regarding the third objective, climate change has played a dominant role throughout the project. By means of theoretical modeling, experimental investigations, and expert surveys, we have attempted to provide a comprehensive assessment of what has been achieved and possible ways forward. The mechanisms included in the Paris Agreement can be expected to exert an influence on climate change mitigation efforts, but stronger measures are needed. The linkage of climate policy with international trade is increasingly receiving attention. Our research shows that such linkage has a higher chance of success if the gains from trade are relatively large and if countries use a coordinated multilateral approach rather than a unilateral approach. As another example of possible ways out of the crisis, we have examined the acceptance of geoengineering technologies and their determinants. Our results show that the views of climate experts do not only depend on their expectations of global damages but also on the expectations for their own home country, highlighting another layer of the dilemma between global appropriateness and the personal or national perspective.
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Summary of work progress