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SourceLeg Report Summary

Project ID: 295456
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Switzerland

Final Report Summary - SOURCELEG (Sources of Legitimacy in Global Environmental Governance)

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climatic changes requires policy-interventions on a large scale that affect virtually every member of society worldwide. Progress in that direction requires a lot of support from the bottom up, that is, by citizens and consumers. The ERC-funded SourceLeg project thus sought to identify factors that influence public support for (or opposition to) climate change mitigation policy. It used a variety of methods, such as survey embedded experiments, conjoint choice experiments, and interactive online experiments, to address many facets of the overarching question. The empirical research focused on Brazil, China, Germany, India, Switzerland, and the United States. Key findings of the project published thus far include the following. For further information, see:

Could simple reframing boost public support for climate policy? The public’s appetite for ambitious climate change mitigation policies, as observed in most countries, is rather limited. One possibility for enhancing public support could be to shift the main justification in the public policy discourse from benefits of reducing climate change risks (the conventional justification) to other types of benefit. Technological innovation, green jobs, community building and health benefits are widely discussed candidates. The intuition is that reframing greenhouse gas mitigation efforts and their benefits in such terms could make them more personally relevant as well as more emotionally engaging and appealing to citizens. From our research, we conclude that simple reframing of climate policy is unlikely to increase public support. As the added value of other justifications remains unclear at best and potentially nil, sticking to climate risk reduction as the dominant justification seems worthwhile.

Does civil society involvement enhance public support for global climate governance? Our results, based on survey experiments in India, the United States, and China speak in favour of civil society involvement. While individuals view civil society participation favourably in general, civil society inclusion, conceptualized as a static condition, does not appear to increase popular legitimacy of global climate governance. We also find, however, that changing existing practices of civil society inclusion induces substantial changes people’s evaluations of climate policy. The latter finding has important implications for current debates on how to address the persistent stalemate in global climate negotiations.

How do climate policies unilaterally introduced by "frontrunner" countries influence public support in countries that did not vote on the policies but are affected by them? We examined the effect of a major unilateral EU climate policy initiative, which regulates emissions from aircraft, on public opinion in the two largest democracies outside the EU, India and the USA. Specifically, we studied the effects of cost and sovereignty considerations on people’s evaluation of the EU’s policy. The results show that, despite much government rhetoric about costs and sovereignty being violated, both types of concern have a modest impact. They suggest that there remains some room for the EU in pursuing such unilateral climate policies that involuntarily enlist other countries in sharing the global mitigation burden.

Do fairness principles affect citizens’ preferences for burden sharing? These principles play a large role in negotiations on mitigation burden sharing. We carried out interactive decision-experiments in the lab and online to find out. Participants were tasked with sharing the costs of climate change mitigation. The aim was to examine how participants’ willingness to pay for mitigation was influenced by capacity and historical responsibility considerations. The results show that fairness principles do have a strong effect and that participants applied fairness principles differently depending on their capacity and responsibility at the outset. It turns out that participants paid more attention to other players’ capacity and historical responsibility when proposing a particular cost allocation and more attention to their own capacity and responsibility when responding to proposals by others. These and other findings from the project suggest that framing climate policy in terms of internationally coordinated unilateral measures is likely to garner more public support than framing climate policy in terms of a global bargaining effort over the mitigation burden.

How to obtain public support for North-South climate funding? Using survey experiments in Germany and the United States, we find that climate funding receives more public support if allocated to efficient governments, funding decisions are made jointly by donor and recipient countries, funding is used both for mitigation and adaptation, and other donor countries contribute a large share. Contrary to what one might expect, climate change damage levels, income, and emissions in/of potential recipient countries have no significant effect on public support. These findings suggest that finance mechanisms that focus purely on compensating developing countries, without contributing to the global public good of mitigation, will find it hard to garner public support.

Does, as is commonly assumed, public support for climate risk mitigation policy decline when general economic conditions are worse? Based on surveys in Germany, the United States, and Brazil, we find that individuals’ perceptions of their own economic situation have no significant effect on support for climate policy. Negative perceptions of how the national economy will develop in the upcoming years reduce support for climate policy. But this effect is very weak, and much weaker than the effect of climate risk perceptions. Interestingly, these findings are similar for the United States, whose government is among the less ambitious in global climate policy, Germany, which is among the frontrunners, and Brazil, which finds itself in deep economic recession. The main policy-implication is that the state of the economy does not appear to trump climate risk considerations.

How strong is public support for unilateral climate policy and what drives it? While the global nature of the climate change problem requires global policy solutions, the Paris agreement has departed from top-down target setting of the Kyoto system and is now based on internationally coordinated unilateralism. Our research has explored how strong public support is for unilateral climate policy of respondents’ countries and what its determinants are. We developed survey instruments to gauge public support for unilateral climate policy. The results show that when respondents are confronted with cost implications and free-riding problems associated with unilateral climate policy, public support tends to drop to some extent, but still remains quite high. These patterns are similar across countries, with surveys having been fielded in China, India, and the USA. Hence, they show that people are—the hitherto strong global public goods framing of climate policy notwithstanding— surprisingly nonreciprocal in their climate policy preferences. Preferences concerning climate policy tend to be driven primarily by a range of personal predispositions and cost considerations, rather than by considerations of what other countries do.

What explains public (dis)trust in science? Understanding this is both theoretically and practically important, because scientific evidence plays a key role in motivating public policy. While previous research has focused on the association between political ideology and trust in science, it is at best an inconsistent predictor. Our research demonstrates that two dimensions of political ideology—attitudes towards governments and corporations—can more precisely predict trust in science across issues. Using a survey in the United States and Germany on the science of climate change and genetically modified foods, we find that an individual’s trust in science varies across issues and that attitudes towards government and corporations are important predictors of this trust.

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