Public Lecture

Tuesday 27 November 2018, 17:00 - 18:30

Catalytic Cooperation

Dr. Thomas Hale Associate Professor of Global Public Policy

Associate Professor of Global Public Policy, Director for China Engagement Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford

The CIES is pleased to welcome Prof. Thomas Hale for a public lecture on Tuesday 27 November, at La Maison de la Paix, room P1-847.

Scholars and policymakers typically see climate change and other global commons problems as a “tragedy of the commons". Everyone would be better off if we solve the problem, but no one wants to act unless everyone else acts as well. Because it is easier to free-ride than to contribute, no one works to solve the problem and everyone is worse off. Without some kind of credible commitment to act, such as a treaty that monitors compliance and sanctions defection, the common good will be neglected. This paper challenges this conventional wisdom. It reconceptualises the international politics of climate change as a “catalytic” collective action problem. In this framework, collective action can be created over time if a critical mass of first-movers is able to progressively change the costs and benefits of cooperation. Here the difficulty is not creating credible commitments or containing free-riders, but initiating action in the first place and expanding it over time.  The paper introduces the idea of “catalytic” institutions. When collective action problems are catalytic in nature, such institutions can promote cooperation not by enhancing the credibility of commitments but by shifting actors’ preferences over time. The 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change puts this logic at its core, suggesting a new way to address climate change and other global commons issues.
The paper can be downloaded here.



Dr. Thomas Hale’s research explores how we can manage transnational problems effectively and fairly. He seeks to explain how political institutions evolve--or not--to face the challenges raised by globalization and interdependence, with a particular emphasis on environmental and economic issues. He holds a PhD in Politics from Princeton University, a masters degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics, and an AB in public policy from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. A US national, Hale has studied and worked in Argentina, China, and Europe. His books include Beyond Gridlock (Polity 2017), Between Interests and Law: The Politics of Transnational Commercial Disputes (Cambridge 2015), Transnational Climate Change Governance (Cambridge 2014), and Gridlock: Why Global Cooperation Is Failing when We Need It Most (Polity 2013).

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