It is probably uncontroversial to say that climate politics is usually conceptualized as a collective action problem structured by free-riding concerns. In this model, countries fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently because they only want to do so if others cooperate. Yet states (or their leaders) are trapped in a prisoner’s dilemma. They would love to see cooperation occur, but they live in the mutual fear of free-riding. In the absence of robust ways to monitor and punish non-compliance with an international agreement, so the logic goes, leaders will remain stuck in a world in which everybody emits greenhouse gases.

This paradigm has dominated climate governance research. In fact, climate change is often used as the canonical example of global public bads and the problem caused by fears of free-riding. Nobel laureate William Nordhaus...

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