Written by Bo Li, Era Dabla-Norris, Krishna Srinivasan
People across the world worry about climate change, but that concern alone doesn’t translate into support for climate mitigation policies.
That’s our finding based on a recent survey designed to better illustrate how people perceive the risks from climate change and their support for government climate actions.
Responses also show that those who were more concerned about climate change tend to be female, more educated, followers of news, and more accepting of government’s role in regulating the economy. Data shows that public transport users and those that rely less on cars are also more concerned about climate change.
Our survey of almost 30,000 people in 28 countries was conducted in July and August by market researcher YouGov. The survey covered advanced and emerging economies and included 20 of the top 25 emitters as well as nine of the 25 countries most exposed to climate change.
This novel survey of climate mitigation beliefs offers policymakers a better understanding of how to address the urgent challenge of climate change. While governments have ambitious goals, the world is not yet on track to contain global warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius. According to scientists, failing to get emissions on the correct course by 2030 may lock global warming above 2 degrees and risk a catastrophic tipping point at which climate change becomes self-perpetuating.
Our survey shows that providing even small amounts of information on policy efficacy and benefits—including co-benefits, such as improved air quality and better health—can engender greater support. This support, however, may be short-lived if policy tradeoffs are not made explicit, highlighting the importance of ensuring the public understands the relative costs and benefits of available policy options.
Some of the most economically efficient policies, such as carbon pricing based on the content of fuels or their emissions, often face political resistance. Importantly, the survey highlights that climate concern alone doesn’t translate into broad support for carbon pricing policies such as carbon taxes or emissions trading systems.
Carbon pricing is more acceptable when presented along with information about the impact of climate change, how pricing works, and options for using the revenue it generates. Notably, people are more supportive of the policy if the revenues it generates are used to shield economically vulnerable groups from the adverse impact of climate policies.
Subsidizing green investments finds large support across all countries, while opponents often cite concerns about corruption and policy ineffectiveness even as proponents can sometimes fail to recognize the costs associated with these policies for the public budget. This suggests that public spending and investment efficiency matters in enhancing support for greening the economy.
Support for multilateral action
The survey points to broader support for collective action and larger common ground for crafting international agreements than expected. A majority of respondents across all countries think that climate change policy will only be effective if most countries adopt measures to reduce carbon emissions.
Moreover, most respondents in both advanced and emerging market economies think that all countries, not only rich ones, should pay to address climate change. In addition, a large share of respondents in most countries say burden sharing should be based on current rather than historical emissions. The public is likely to back costly climate policies if other countries do so, both because this increases the odds of reaching global net-zero emissions goals and because those efforts resonate as fair.
Knowledge of climate mitigation policies remains patchy, and many people still have no opinion when it comes to supporting or opposing climate policy actions in their country. Here’s how governments can better support the urgent need for green transitions: