What will it take for voters to support climate action?

Most observers agree that climate change requires international action and that any set of initiatives will require broad public support to be successful.  An interesting report recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America addresses some of the issues that will need to be addressed to win that enduring public support.

The research was undertaken by means of somewhat large scale internet surveys on representative samples of the adult population in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Findings included:

  • a strong sensitivity to costs: an increase of average household costs from 0.5% to 1% of gross domestic product decreases public support for an agreement by 10 percentage points. An agreement expected to cost 2% of GDP, which corresponds to €113 in France, €154 in Germany, £60 in the United Kingdom, and $213 in the United States per household and month, decreases support among citizens by 25 percentage points on average if compared with an agreement that costs only 0.5% of GDP.
  • perceptions of agreement fairness are determined most powerfully by a polluter-pays principle as opposed to a strong version of the ability-to-pay principle. Distributing the costs of emissions reductions proportional to current emissions increases support by about six percentage points compared with an agreement in which only rich countries pay.
  • mass support depends on how encompassing a global climate agreement is: increasing the number of countries that participate in an agreement from 20 of 192 to 80 of 192 increases support for an agreement by about 15 percentage points.
  • the enforcement structure of potential climate agreements influences public support. Across all four countries, having an agreement monitored by an independent commission—that is, a new international institution—increases the probability of supporting an agreement over the alternative that national governments monitor themselves. The magnitude of the effect is 5–10 percentage points or a 10–20% increase over the baseline.


The report, from researchers at the Department of Political Sciences at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, and Stanford University, provides considerably more depth to these analyses. Both an abstract and the full article are available at http://www.pnas.org/content/110/34/13763.full?sid=885dd472-5ba5-4cf5-b91e-ad3168f7d79b#

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