Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting 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.

  • Article
  • Published:

Commitment failures are unlikely to undermine public support for the Paris agreement


Success of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which is founded on nationally determined contributions (NDCs), hinges on whether domestic support for international environmental agreements would be undermined if countries that are crucial to the global effort fail to reduce their emissions. Here we find that citizens in China (n = 3,000) and the United States (n = 3,007) have strong preferences over the design of international climate agreements and contributions of other countries to the global effort. However, contrary to what standard accounts of international politics would predict, a survey-embedded experiment in which respondents were randomly exposed to different information on other countries’ behaviour showed that information on other countries failing to reduce their emissions does not undermine support for how international agreements are designed. While other factors still make large emission cuts challenging, these results suggest that the Paris approach per se is not posing a problem.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1: Public support for features of international climate agreements.
Fig. 2: Effect of information provision on support for the most popular climate agreement.
Fig. 3: Effect of information provision on support for international climate agreement features.

Similar content being viewed by others

Data availability

Replication data and code for the study are available in the Harvard Dataverse with the identifier (ref. 33).


  1. Mitchell, R. B. International environmental agreements: a survey of their features, formation, and effects. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 28, 429–461 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Mitchell, R. B. International Environmental Agreements Database Project (Mitchell, R. B. & IEA Database Project, accessed 1 September 2018); (2017).

  3. Keohane, R. O After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, 1984)

    Google Scholar 

  4. Axelrod, R. & Keohane, R. O. in Cooperation Under Anarchy 226–260 (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, 1986).

  5. Keohane, R. O. & Victor, D. G. Cooperation and discord in global climate policy. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 570–575 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Hovi, J., Ward, H. & Grundig, F. Hope or despair? Formal models of climate cooperation. Environ. Resour. Econ. 62, 1–24 (2014).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Hovi, J., Sprinz, D. F., Saelen, H. & Underdal. The club approach: a gateway to effective climate co-operation? Br. J. Polit. Sci.

  8. Sprinz, D. F., Sælen, H., Underdal, A. & Hovi, J. The effectiveness of climate clubs under Donald Trump. Clim. Policy 18, 828–838 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Tingley, D. & Tomz, M. Conditional cooperation and climate change. Comp. Polit. Stud. 47, 344–368 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Ward, H. Game theory and the politics of global warming: the state of play and beyond. Polit. Stud. 44, 850–871 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Sandler, T. Global Challenges: An Approach to Environmental, Political, and Economic Problems (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1997).

  12. Barrett, S. A theory of full international cooperation. J. Theor. Polit. 11, 519–541 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Off Target: Ranking of EU Countries’ Ambition and Progress in Fighting Climate Change (Climate Action Network Europe, 2018);

  14. Wlezien, C. The public as thermostat: dynamics of preferences for spending. Am. J. Polit. Sci. 39, 981–1000 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Burstein, P. The impact of public opinion on public policy: a review and an agenda. Polit. Res. Q. 56, 29–40 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Anderson, B., Böhmelt, T. & Ward, H. Public opinion and environmental policy output: a cross-national analysis of energy policies in Europe. Environ. Res. Lett. 12, 1–10 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Olson, M. The Logic of Collective Action (Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1965).

    Google Scholar 

  18. Lyon, T. P. & Yin, H. Why do states adopt renewable portfolio standards? An empirical investigation. Energy J. 31, 133–157 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Ince, D., Vredenburg, H. & Liu, X. Drivers and inhibitors of renewable energy: a qualitative and quantitative study of the caribbean. Energy Policy 98, 700–712 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Hertel-Fernandez, A., Mildenberger, M. & Stokes, L. C. Legislative staff and representation in congress. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 113, 1–18 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Oehl, B., Schaffer, L. M. & Bernauer, T. How to measure public demand for policies when there is no appropriate survey data? J. Public Policy 37, 173–204 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Tomz, M. Domestic audience costs in international relations: an experimental approach. Int. Organ. 61, 821–840 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Chaudoin, S. Promises or policies? An experimental analysis of international agreements and audience reactions. Int. Organ. 68, 235–256 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Downs, G. W. & Rocke, D. M. Tacit bargaining and arms control. World Polit. 39, 297–325 (1987).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Bernauer, T., Prakash, A. & Beiser-McGrath, L. F. Do exemptions undermine environmental policy support? An experimental stress test on the odd-even road space rationing policy in India. Regul. Gov. (2018).

  26. Bechtel, M. M. & Scheve, K. F. Mass support for global climate agreements depends on institutional design. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 13763–13768 (2013).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  27. Bernauer, T. & Gampfer, R. How robust is public support for unilateral climate policy? Environ. Sci. Policy 54, 316–330 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Hainmueller, J., Hopkins, D. J. & Yamamoto, T. Causal inference in conjoint analysis: understanding multidimensional choices via stated preference experiments. Polit. Anal. 22, 1–30 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Ratkovic, M. & Tingley, D. Sparse estimation and uncertainty with application to subgroup analysis. Polit. Anal. 25, 1–40 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Bernauer, T., Dong, L., McGrath, L., Shaymerdenova, I. & Zhang, H. Unilateral or reciprocal climate policy? Experimental evidence from china. Polit. Gov. 4, 152–171 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. McEvoy, D. M. & Cherry, T. L. The prospects for Paris: behavioral insights into unconditional cooperation on climate change. Palgrave Commun. 2, 16056 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Ipsos Answers to ESOMAR 28 Questions to Help Online Research Buyers (Ipsos, 2013);

  33. Beiser-McGrath, L. F. Replication data for: commitment failures are unlikely to undermine public support for the Paris Agreement. (Harvard Dataverse, 2018);

Download references


This research was financially supported by European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant No. 295456 (Sources of Legitimacy in Global Environmental Governance) and supported by ETH Zürich. We are particularly grateful to L. Liu for help with the Chinese translations. We are also grateful to participants of the Swiss Political Science Association and Political Studies Association conferences in 2017 for helpful comments.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



L.F.B.-M. and T.B. jointly designed the study. L.F.B.-M. analysed the data. L.F.B.-M. and T.B. wrote the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Liam F. Beiser-McGrath.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1–23, Supplementary Figs. 1–7, Supplementary Methods

Reporting Summary

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Beiser-McGrath, L.F., Bernauer, T. Commitment failures are unlikely to undermine public support for the Paris agreement. Nat. Clim. Chang. 9, 248–252 (2019).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing Anthropocene

Sign up for the Nature Briefing: Anthropocene newsletter — what matters in anthropocene research, free to your inbox weekly.

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