Environmental challenges and climate policy: how agent-based models can be used to investigate human behavior and decisions


Which strategies do different actors use in response to environmental problems, and which kind of interactions appear? Which forms of conflict and cooperation occur in the context of climate policy, and how can behavior at various levels or in social networks be quantified? The prominent economist Nicholas Stern believes agent-based models hold considerable potential for addressing today’s challenges in environmental and climate policy. In this context, “agents” are subjects and objects with the ability to make decisions and perform actions – e.g. individuals, groups, and larger units like countries. On March 10 and 11, more than forty researchers gathered at an international CliSAP Workshop in Hamburg, where they exchanged on the latest findings and controversies.

Pioneer in agent-based models: Prof. Emeritus Klaus G. Troitzsch during his presentation on strategies for CO2 reduction and stimulus mechanisms in climate policy
Dr. Sascha Hokamp from the Research Unit Sustainability and Global Change co-initiated the workshop
Conflict or cooperation in the areas climate and environment: Prof. Jürgen Scheffran from the Institute of Geography during his talk on agents and social networks

In their contributions, the workshop participants presented their agent-based simulation models, which they used to investigate social relations with a connection to climate change. Unlike other modeling approaches, agent-based models adopt the perspective of the individual, helping them identify social interconnections and social patterns. For example, an  economy can be portrayed as the interactions between numerous agents, each of which has the freedom to make decisions and perform actions on its own. Further, computer-assisted simulation can be used to explicitly model and explore connections between the micro- and macro-levels – e.g. between consumers, markets or countries.

“We were delighted to see so many researchers from Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Italy, Great Britain and the USA share their latest findings at our CliSAP Workshop,” says Dr. Sascha Hokamp, one of the two organizers. “The spectrum of topics and applications was extremely diverse: climate change and migration, land and water use, renewable energies, sustainable investments, urban traffic and electro-mobility, just to name a few,” explains his colleague Prof. Jürgen Scheffran, adding: “It became clear that agent-based models can greatly help to explore open research questions in the areas climate and environment. This also opens the door for a range of applications, especially in modeling individuals from the micro-perspective.” In the course of the closing discussion, the participants agreed on the importance of combining different methods and approaches. Above all, they expressed their interest in a follow-up workshop so as to build on the fruitful exchange of ideas in Hamburg.

see Workshop-Webseite


Dr. Sascha Hokamp
Prof. Jürgen Scheffran