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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.

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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.

Data availability

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


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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




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.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information

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

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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).

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