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Constant carbon pricing increases support for climate action compared to ramping up costs over time

Abstract

The introduction of policies that increase the price of carbon is central to limiting the adverse effects of global warming. Conventional wisdom holds that, of the possible cost paths, gradually raising costs relating to climate action will receive the most public support. Here, we explore mass support for dynamic cost paths in four major economies (France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States). We find that, for a given level of average costs, increasing cost paths receive little support whereas constant cost schedules are backed by majorities in all countries irrespective of whether those average costs are low or high. Experimental evidence indicates that constant cost paths significantly reduce opposition to climate action relative to increasing cost paths. Preferences for climate cost paths are related to the time horizons of individuals and their desire to smooth consumption over time.

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Fig. 1: Cost paths presented to respondents.
Fig. 2: Preferences for distributing climate costs over time.
Fig. 3: Support for climate action as a function of cost paths and cost levels.
Fig. 4: Support for climate action as a function of cost paths by cost level.
Fig. 5: Support for climate action as a function of cost paths by start year.
Fig. 6: Words associated with justifications for a given cost path.

Data availability

Data and replication materials are available at the Harvard Dataverse (https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/VXJPN5).

Code availability

Statistical code are available as part of the replication materials at the Harvard Dataverse (https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/VXJPN5).

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Acknowledgements

We thank Clara Vandeweerdt for research assistance and audiences at Yale University and the 2019 International Political Economy Society Conference for comments. M.M.B. and K.F.S. gratefully acknowledge financial support from the Swiss Network for International Studies and the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy at Washington University in St. Louis. K.F.S. thanks the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences at Stanford University for a faculty fellowship.

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M.M.B., K.F.S. and E.vL. contributed equally to the study design, data collection and analysis, interpretation of the results and writing of the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Michael M. Bechtel or Kenneth F. Scheve.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Rebecca Bromley-Trujillo, Christopher Warshaw and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Preferences for distributing climate costs over time (weighted data).

The percentage of respondents who prefer constant, increasing, decreasing, or inverse U-shaped intertemporal allocations of climate costs (n = 10,075).

Extended Data Fig. 2 The causal effects of cost path, cost level, and other policy attributes on public support.

Dots with horizontal lines are point estimates from a linear least squares regression of climate policy chosen (n = 129,280) on randomly assigned cost path, cost level, and revenue investment attributes. Error bars indicate 95% and 99% confidence intervals computed from robust standard errors clustered by respondent.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Support for climate action as a function of cost paths and cost levels (weighted data).

Dots with horizontal lines are point estimates from linear least squares regressions of climate policy chosen on randomly assigned cost path and cost level attributes. Error bars indicate 95% and 99% confidence intervals computed from robust standard errors clustered by respondent, n(policy profiles)=129,280.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Support for climate action as a function of cost paths and cost levels by country (weighted data).

Dots with horizontal lines are point estimates from linear least squares regressions of climate policy chosen on randomly assigned cost path and cost level attributes. Error bars indicate 95% and 99% confidence intervals computed from robust standard errors clustered by respondent, n(France, policy profiles)=32,000, n(Germany, policy profiles)=32,000, n(United Kingdom, policy profiles)=32,000, n(United States, policy profiles)=33,280.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Support for climate action as a function of cost paths by cost level (weighted data).

Causal effects of climate cost paths on policy support estimated separately for each randomly assigned cost level, n(0.5% of GDP, policy profiles)=32,305, n(1% of GDP, policy profiles)=32,373, n(2% of GDP, policy profiles)=32,367, n(2.5% of GDP, policy profiles)=32,235. Dots with horizontal lines are point estimates from linear least squares regressions of climate policy chosen on randomly assigned cost path attributes. Error bars indicate 95% and 99% confidence intervals computed from robust standard errors clustered by respondent.

Extended Data Fig. 6 Support for climate action as a function of cost paths by cost level (weighted data).

Results from a conjoint experiment conducted in a separate section of the United States survey that randomized the year in which contributions would start, n(policy profiles)=10,880, see Methods section for details. Dots with horizontal lines are point estimates from linear least squares regressions of climate policy chosen on randomly assigned cost path attributes. Error bars indicate 95% and 99% confidence intervals computed from robust standard errors clustered by respondent.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Fig. 1 and Tables 1 and 2.

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Bechtel, M.M., Scheve, K.F. & van Lieshout, E. Constant carbon pricing increases support for climate action compared to ramping up costs over time. Nat. Clim. Chang. 10, 1004–1009 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-00914-6

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