Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Co-benefits of addressing climate change can motivate action around the world

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 27 April 2016

This article has been updated

Abstract

Personal and political action on climate change is traditionally thought to be motivated by people accepting its reality and importance. However, convincing the public that climate change is real faces powerful ideological obstacles1,2,3,4, and climate change is slipping in public importance in many countries5,6. Here we investigate a different approach, identifying whether potential co-benefits of addressing climate change7 could motivate pro-environmental behaviour around the world for both those convinced and unconvinced that climate change is real. We describe an integrated framework for assessing beliefs about co-benefits8, distinguishing social conditions (for example, economic development, reduced pollution or disease) and community character (for example, benevolence, competence). Data from all inhabited continents (24 countries; 6,196 participants) showed that two co-benefit types, Development (economic and scientific advancement) and Benevolence (a more moral and caring community), motivated public, private and financial actions to address climate change to a similar degree as believing climate change is important. Critically, relationships were similar for both convinced and unconvinced participants, showing that co-benefits can motivate action across ideological divides. These relationships were also independent of perceived climate change importance, and could not be explained by political ideology, age, or gender. Communicating co-benefits could motivate action on climate change where traditional approaches have stalled.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Meta-analyses showing average effect sizes (with 95% confidence intervals) and tests for cross-country variability (Q) for climate change importance and co-benefit dimensions with motivations to act on climate change for ‘convinced’ participants (n = 4,049) across 24 countries.
Figure 2: Meta-analyses showing average effect sizes (with 95% confidence intervals) and tests for cross-country variability (Q) for climate change importance and co-benefit dimensions with motivations to act on climate change for ‘unconvinced’ participants from 14 countries (n = 908; student and community combined), and for ‘convinced’ participants (student and community combined) from the same countries.

Change history

  • 18 March 2016

    In the version of this Letter originally published, the following affiliation was missing for Paul G. Bain: Institute for Health and Biomedical Innovation, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia. This has now been corrected in the online version of the Letter.

References

  1. Bliuc, A.-M. et al. Public division about climate change rooted in conflicting socio-political identities. Nature Clim. Change 5, 226–229 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Hoffman, A. J. The growing climate divide. Nature Clim. Change 1, 195–196 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. McCright, A. M. & Dunlap, R. E. Cool dudes: The denial of climate change among conservative white males in the United States. Glob. Environ. Change 21, 1163–1172 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. McCright, A. M. & Dunlap, R. E. The politicization of climate change and polarization in the American public’s views of global warming, 2001–2010. Sociol. Q. 52, 155–194 (2011).

    Google Scholar 

  5. Pew Research Center Thirteen Years of the Public’s Top Priorities (2014); http://www.people-press.org/interactive/top-priorities

  6. United Nations Development Group A Million Voices: The World We Want (2013); http://www.worldwewant2015.org/millionvoices

  7. Moser, S. C. & Dilling, L. in Creating a Climate for Change: Communicating Climate Change and Facilitating Social Change (eds Moser, S. C. & Dilling, L.) 491–516 Ch. 32, (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  8. Bain, P. G., Hornsey, M. J., Bongiorno, R., Kashima, Y. & Crimston, D. Collective futures: How projections about the future of society are related to actions and attitudes supporting social change. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 39, 523–539 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Bowman, T. E. et al. Time to take action on climate communication. Science 330, 1044 (2010).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Whitmarsh, L. Scepticism and uncertainty about climate change: Dimensions, determinants and change over time. Glob. Environ. Change 21, 690–700 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Nemet, G. F., Holloway, T. & Meier, P. Implications of incorporating air-quality co-benefits into climate change policymaking. Environ. Res. Lett. 5, 014007 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. West, J. J. et al. Co-benefits of mitigating global greenhouse gas emissions for future air quality and human health. Nature Clim. Change 3, 885–889 (2013).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. UNEP Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication—A Synthesis for Policy Makers (2011); http://www.unep.org/greeneconomy

  14. Fabian, N. Economics: Support low-carbon investment. Nature 519, 27–29 (2015).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Thurston, G. D. Mitigation policy: Health co-benefits. Nature Clim. Change 3, 863–864 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Maibach, E. W., Nisbet, M., Baldwin, P., Akerlof, K. & Diao, G. Reframing climate change as a public health issue: An exploratory study of public reactions. BMC Public Health 10, 299 (2010); http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/10/299

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Bain, P. G., Hornsey, M. J., Bongiorno, R. & Jeffries, C. Promoting pro-environmental action in climate change deniers. Nature Clim. Change 2, 600–603 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Lee, T. M., Markowitz, E. M., Howe, P. D., Ko, C.-Y. & Leiserowitz, A. A. Predictors of public climate change awareness and risk perception around the world. Nature Clim. Change http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2728 (2015).

  19. Fiske, S. T., Cuddy, A. J. C. & Glick, P. Universal dimensions of social cognition: Warmth and competence. Trends Cogn. Sci. 11, 77–83 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Leach, C. W., Ellemers, N. & Barreto, M. Group virtue: The importance of morality (vs. competence and sociability) in the positive evaluation of in-groups. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 93, 234–249 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Stern, P. C. Toward a coherent theory of environmentally significant behavior. J. Soc. Issues 56, 407–424 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Lipsey, M. W. & Wilson, D. B. Practical Meta-Analysis (Sage Publications, 2000).

    Google Scholar 

  23. Hunter, L. M., Hatch, A. & Johnson, A. Cross-national gender variation in environmental behaviors. Soc. Sci. Q. 85, 677–694 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Hsu, A. et al. The 2014 Environmental Performance Index (Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, 2014).

    Google Scholar 

  25. Franzen, A. & Meyer, R. Environmental attitudes in cross-national perspective: A multilevel analysis of the ISSP 1993 and 2000. Eur. Sociol. Rev. 26, 219–234 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Freymeyer, R. H. & Johnson, B. E. A cross-cultural investigation of factors influencing environmental actions. Sociol. Spectr. 30, 184–195 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Spence, A., Poortinga, W., Butler, C. & Pidgeon, N. F. Perceptions of climate change and willingness to save energy related to flood experience. Nature Clim. Change 1, 46–49 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Broomell, S. B., Budescu, D. V. & Por, H.-H. Personal experience with climate change predicts intentions to act. Glob. Environ. Change 32, 67–73 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Gromet, D. M., Kunreuther, H. & Larrick, R. P. Political ideology affects energy-efficiency attitudes and choices. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 9314–9319 (2013).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Hackmann, H., Moser, S. C. & St Clair, A. L. The social heart of global environmental change. Nature Clim. Change 4, 653–655 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Schwartz, S. H. in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology Vol. 25 (ed. Zanna, M. P.) 1–65 (Academic Press, 1992).

    Google Scholar 

  32. Stern, P. C., Dietz, T., Abel, T., Guagnano, G. A. & Kalof, L. A value-belief-norm theory of support for social movements: The case of environmentalism. Hum. Ecol. Rev. 6, 81–97 (1999).

    Google Scholar 

  33. McDonald, R. I., Fielding, K. S. & Louis, W. R. Energizing and de-motivating effects of norm conflict. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 39, 57–72 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Whitmarsh, L. & O’Neill, S. Green identity, green living? The role of pro-environmental self-identity in determining consistency across diverse pro-environmental behaviours. J. Environ. Psychol. 30, 305–314 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Schwartz, S. et al. Basic personal values underlie and give coherence to political values: A cross national study in 15 countries. Polit. Behav. 36, 899–930 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the following grants or financial support: Australian Research Council Discovery Project grants to P.G.B. (DP0984678) and to Y.K. (DP130102229); Marsden Fast-Start grant (E1908) from The Royal Society of New Zealand to T.L.M.; MNISW Iuventus Plus Grant IP2014 002273 to M.B.; the Center for Social Conflict and Cohesion Studies (COES), FONDAP Na15130009 to R.G.; and the Government of the Russian Federation within the framework of the implementation of the 5-100 Programme Roadmap of the National Research University Higher School of Economics to N.L. Acknowledgement of non-author contributions is in Supplementary Section 5.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

P.G.B., T.L.M., and Y.K. designed and coordinated the research project and collected data, with input into design and measures from all authors. P.G.B. analysed the data and wrote the paper, in conjunction with T.L.M. and Y.K. and with input from all authors. M.B., G.D., R.B.G., V.V.G., Y.G., L.-O.J., C.P., V.C.-V., J.I.A., A.U., C.D., S.O., J.P., M.S., L.S., R.G., N.L., O.J.M., C.W., G.E. and N.M.S. also translated materials, collected data and contributed to the manuscript. C.S.A., T.K., J.L.S. and P.W.S. also collected data and contributed to the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Paul G. Bain.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Bain, P., Milfont, T., Kashima, Y. et al. Co-benefits of addressing climate change can motivate action around the world. Nature Clim Change 6, 154–157 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2814

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2814

Further reading

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing