Climate policies under wealth inequality

Vítor V. Vasconcelos, Francisco C. Santos, Jorge M. Pacheco, Simon Asher Levin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

105 Scopus citations


Taming the planet's climate requires cooperation. Previous failures to reach consensus in climate summits have been attributed, among other factors, to conflicting policies between rich and poor countries, which disagree on the implementation of mitigation measures. Here we implement wealth inequality in a threshold public goods dilemma of cooperation in which players also face the risk of potential future losses. We consider a population exhibiting an asymmetric distribution of rich and poor players that reflects the present-day status of nations and study the behavioral interplay between rich and poor in time, regarding their willingness to cooperate. Individuals are also allowed to exhibit a variable degree of homophily, which acts to limit those that constitute one's sphere of influence. Under the premises of our model, and in the absence of homophily, comparison between scenarios with wealth inequality and without wealth inequality shows that the former leads to more global cooperation than the latter. Furthermore, we find that the rich generally contribute more than the poor and will often compensate for the lower contribution of the latter. Contributions from the poor, which are crucial to overcome the climate change dilemma, are shown to be very sensitive to homophily, which, if prevalent, can lead to a collapse of their overall contribution. In such cases, however, we also find that obstinate cooperative behavior by a few poor may largely compensate for homophilic behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2212-2216
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number6
StatePublished - Feb 11 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Collective action
  • Environmental agreements
  • Evolutionary game theory
  • Global warming
  • Governance of the commons


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