Enhancing Public Support for Climate Policy: Addressing Research Gaps and Necessities

The escalating risk of catastrophic climate change and the limited success of current climate policies demand more rigorous policy instruments, including pricing and regulatory measures. Such instruments, often referred to as “push measures”, often gain less public acceptance than „pull measures“ such as subsidies and information-based instruments. This is especially true when such policies target consumers rather than producers.

To advance the adoption of more stringent push measures, it is crucial to understand how to improve their acceptability. It is thus good news that research has come to explore public support levels of a wide range of climate policy instruments and the factors that influence such support. However, there are limitations to what we can learn from the available research to make policy proposals more acceptable – as we have argued in more depth in a Working Paper recently published. Nearly simultaneously, Steffen Kallbekken at the Center for International Climate Research in Oslo also published an article highlighting research needs in this area.

Against this background, we organized an international expert webinar on March 20th, 2023, to address research gaps and avenues towards progress. Around 25 experienced researchers from nearly ten different countries followed our invitation. The webinar encompassed a wide range of topics, including brief presentations and spontaneous interventions. In our own keynote presentation, based on the aforementioned Working Paper, we advocated more multi-method research on political factors that influence policy acceptability, such as policy design and packaging, temporal aspects, participation and coalition building, or information and framing.

It is hardly possible to summarize the wide breath of different aspects discussed over the course of the webinar, but some key take-aways include:

  • Integrating real-world political aspects, such as power and discourse, into acceptability research.
    • In this context, also examining the role of public acceptability for political decisions and feasibility, relative to other factors like party politics, and the conditions affecting the impact of public acceptability.
  • Shifting the focus from overall or majority acceptance to specific population segments (e.g., voter groups) and the intensity of their support or opposition.
  • Assessing the implications that low trust in governments has for achieving acceptability.
  • Investigating the acceptability effects that arise from the unequal distribution of climate change risks as well as from the unequal distribution of policy effects upon people.
  • Stepping up research on public acceptability (factors) in developing countries.
  • Expanding methodologies beyond surveys and survey experiments, incorporating qualitative methods like focus groups and mixed-method approaches.

The slides of the keynote presentation and of some further inputs are available for download:

Keynote “Research needs around politically influenceable factors of climate policy acceptability” by Dirk Arne Heyen and Michael Wicki

Input “A social tipping approach for acceptance research” by Isabelle Stadelmann-Steffen

Input by Katya Rhodes

Dirk Arne Heyen is a senior researcher at the Oeko-Institut (Berlin office). His research focuses on societal aspects of environmental and climate policy, especially social impacts, justice issues and public acceptance of sustainability transitions and policy measures. Dr Michael Wicki is a senior researcher in the Spatial Development and Urban Policy (SPUR) research group at ETH Zurich. His research focuses on low carbon mobility and densification in urban areas with a focus on acceptance of policy measures.

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