Climate Chess

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Please Note: Climate Chess is not a game you can play and win as an individual. It represents a way of thinking about a collective approach to tackling climate change that combines strategy and tactics in a way that has been largely missing so far. While individuals have a key role to play in Climate Chess, that role has to be part of the larger collective and coordinated effort.

Scientists have known for more than 100 years that exploiting fossil fuels for energy would eventually affect the Earth's temperature, and for more than 60 years that climate change might occur quickly enough to be substantially disruptive. Since then, calls by scientists (and others) to slow climate change have become increasingly frequent and increasingly loud.

As a result there have been hundreds of international meetings to discuss the problem. Global decision-makers have agreed on targets intended to avoid “dangerous” climate change. Thousands of policies and measures have been passed at national, regional, and local levels. And major efforts are underway to mobilize voluntary action by the world’s business community, investor community, and even individual citizens.

But progress towards a low carbon transition is not happening fast enough to avoid dangerous climate change globally, regionally, and locally. Climate change has turned out to be a "wicked problem," and successfully tackling it has turned out to be far more difficult than most people had imagined.


Climate Chess suggests a more strategic and collaborative approach to tackling climate change, and one not as dependent on the workings of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” to solve the problem.

Chess is characterized by:

  • Opposing teams

  • Pieces with different capabilities and moves

  • Lots of possible moves, and millions of game permutations

  • Winning players take advantage of all the pieces on the board to execute a successful strategy. Pawns are much less powerful than Bishops. But in the right place at the right time, a Pawn can trigger checkmate. But that won’t happen if Pawns are all acting independently; there has to be a coordinating force.

Climate change can be thought of similarly:

  • Opposing teams, grouped here as “Team Urgency” and “Team No-Urgency.”

  • The organizations and individuals involved have different skills, capabilities, and resources they bring to bear.

  • Both Team Urgency and Team No-Urgency have a large number of moves available to them, and the number of potential pathways to tackling climate change is enormous.

  • We’ve seen over the last 30 years that the siloing of climate interests and initiatives within Team Urgency, and the failure to take advantage of all the pieces on the Climate Chess gameboard, has led to Team No-Urgency’s dominance of the board.

In all fairness, Team Urgency started out in a much weaker position on the chessboard than Team No-Urgency. It's always much harder to change the status quo than to defend it. But it's also true that Team No-Urgency has long understood that it's engaged in playing Climate Chess, and it’s not clear that Team Urgency has done the same. What would happen if Team Urgency decided to play better Climate Chess?

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Climate Chess is the ultimate planetary board game, and we explore it further in the pages of this Climate Site you see listed to the right.

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