Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Minxin Pei

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© 2015 Alice H. Chang


As the world’s largest emitters and economies, the United States and China play a critical role in global climate mitigation. Using Putnam’s two-level game showcases how the domestic political context of each country impacts their international policies. However, Putnam’s framework does not differentiate between bilateral and multilateral circumstances. The clarity and concentration of perceived costs and benefits for the United States and China from climate policies lead to differing outcomes on the multilateral and bilateral stage. Fear of the free-rider effect makes players assume payoffs that resemble the Prisoner’s Dilemma during multilateral climate negotiations, whereas bilateral negotiations usually result in more cooperative outcomes. These contrasting policy outcomes reflect the hot and cold relationship between the United States and China. The additional expediency and effectiveness of bilateral agreements suggest that substantial climate action will likely originate from strong bilateral agreements. In an optimal scenario, increased U.S.-China climate collaboration translates into a stronger relationship between the two global superpowers and provides other nations with the confidence and certainty to invest in abatement in a renewed global climate regime.