Tragedy of the Planet? Characterizing Climate Change as a Tragedy of the Commons Type of Challenge

© NASA - Kathryn Hansen

Anders Winther Mortensen and Kasper Dalgas Rasmussen

Master Thesis – Energy Technology - 2018

In this master thesis, it is characterized what type of challenge, that we are facing in relation to global warming and climate change. The conclusion is, that we are facing a challenge that cannot be solved by the market or by technological advances, within the timeframe that we have left to act in relation to global warming and climate change. In other words, we are facing a Tragedy of the Commons Type of Challenge, which implies that political intervention is needed. Political intervention could take on many forms. It could be as a ban of fossil fuels, which is a very effective tool or a quota market, with tradable quotas for greenhouse gas emissions in a cap and trade type of market, which is a very cost-efficient tool. The cap of the market should be set within the limits of the carrying capacity. Many other types of political intervention are also imaginable. 

The cost of taking actions towards mitigating global warming and climate change are small. The additional annual extra cost of a fully renewable Danish energy system compared to a fossil one, would only add up to a cost of 150 Danish kroner per month per Dane. This is approximately the same as the cost of a monthly subscription for Netflix or Fitness World and it is less than what most people pay to insure themselves, their houses, cars, furniture, etc. The 150 Danish kroner per month could be seen as an insurance for having a livable planet in the future or it could be seen as an investment. By creating a fully renewable energy system focusing on no and low emission technologies, the annual societal health cost would be reduced by more than the invested 150 kroner a month. What holds us from taking action? The technology is ready and the benefits of taking early actions are big. The question is if the character of the challenge, that we are facing, keeps us from taking action.

Research Project Relations
The VILLUM Center for the Science of Sustainable Fuels and Chemicals, supported by a grant from VILLUM FONDEN.

The VILLUM Center partners are:

  • Technical University of Denmark (DTU)
  • Stanford University
  • University of Copenhagen (KU)
  • University of Southern Denmark (SDU)


Master's Thesis