International and domestic efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions require a coordinated effort from countries and individuals that differ in terms of their level of income, historical responsibility in terms of contributions to the existing stock of emissions, current intensity of energy use and costs of reducing emissions. This brief reports the results of an economic experiment that examines whether groups of individuals – who differ in terms of their individual costs of reducing emissions – can meet a collective emissions reduction target. Subjects in the experiment communicate with each other in order to decide as a group how to meet the emissions reduction target (by deciding how much each group member should reduce emissions). While communication enables the group to reach consensus, the group decision is not binding and participants are able to decide for themselves how much to reduce emissions. The results indicate that participatory processes and stakeholder engagement (represented by communication) play an important role in promoting cooperation, even when dissimilarities exist. However, the dissimilarities make it harder for groups to reach consensus on how to distribute the responsibility of reducing emissions. Also, the non-binding nature of the agreement results in a significant portion of players not engaging in mitigation, but rather relying on others to reduce emissions. In addition, the difference in costs seems to provide the players whose costs are higher with a justification for not making contributions.The results indicate that participatory processes alone are not sufficient to induce widespread compliance with a mitigation obligation.
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