Letter | Published:

Simple reframing unlikely to boost public support for climate policy

Nature Climate Change volume 6, pages 680683 (2016) | Download Citation

This article has been updated


Ambitious policies for limiting climate change require strong public support1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. However, the public’s appetite for such policies, as observed in most countries, is rather limited2,9. One possibility for enhancing public support could be to shift the main justification in the public policy discourse on greenhouse gas mitigation 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 candidates10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19. 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 citizens20,21. On the basis of results from two survey-embedded experiments (combined N = 1,675), and in contrast to some earlier studies, we conclude that simple reframing of climate policy is unlikely to increase public support, and outline reasons for this finding. 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.

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Change history

  • 05 May 2016

    In the version of this Letter originally published, two coding errors led to 37 respondents in experiment 1 and 22 respondents in experiment 2 being incorrectly included in the statistical analysis. The Supplementary Information has been updated to reflect this, and Figure 3 has been corrected in all versions of this Letter.


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The research for this article was financially supported by European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant no. 295456 (Sources of Legitimacy in Global Environmental Governance) and supported by ETH Zurich. We are particularly grateful to A. Kachi for contributing to the research design and data collection at an early stage of the project. We are also grateful to A. Prakash, R. Dunlap, and other participants of the Environmental Politics and Governance conference for very helpful comments.

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  1. ETH Zurich, Department of Humanities, Social and Political Sciences, Center for Comparative and International Studies, Haldeneggsteig 4, IFW, Zurich 8092, Switzerland

    • Thomas Bernauer
    •  & Liam F. McGrath


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T.B. conceived and designed the experiments and performed the experiments. L.F.M. analysed the data. T.B. and L.F.M. co-wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Thomas Bernauer.

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