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Explaining the diverse values assigned to environmental benefits across countries

Abstract

One of the key obstacles to building public consensus regarding environmental problems is the fact that environmental benefits are valued differently by different individuals and across different regions. Lack of public consensus has fractured international and domestic agreements, preventing effective system implementation. However, where does the disparity come from? Here, we provide evidence that can help to understand such diversity by analysing large-scale survey data collected across G20 countries. Combining lifecycle impact assessment and economic valuation techniques, our analysis shows that people’s perceptions of environmental benefits are in fact diverse, but are determined by a few social indicators such as life expectancy, income and gender equality, as well as individual conditions such as relative income and subjective well-being. As these social- and individual-level conditions improve, people shift priorities and place more emphasis on less tangible environmental benefits (biodiversity conservation) rather than relatively tangible (health-related) ones. Focusing on such determinants and addressing the problems of inequality and well-being are critical to building public consensus and tackling global environmental issues practically. Our findings can illuminate a feasible step to global consensus and a sustainable society.

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Fig. 1: The framework of this study.
Fig. 2: Comparison of regional averages of social weightings for 19 countries.
Fig. 3: Four distinct preference groups focusing on human health and biodiversity.

Data availability

Data are available from the corresponding author on request.

Code availability

All data analysis has been performed using the Stata commands. No original code was used.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Y. Mitani (Kyoto University), H. Sakamoto (Kobe University) and K. Takeuchi (Kyoto University) for their helpful comments, the International Research Unit of Nikkei Research for its valuable support in conducting the social survey across various regions accompanied by local research companies, and seminar participants at the Annual Conference of the Society for Environmental Economics and Policy Studies (SEEPS) and the Conference on Advanced Studies in Economics (CASE) for their valuable discussions and feedback. This work was supported by JSPS Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (grant no. JP18J40180, K.M.). This large-scale simultaneous social survey has been supported financially by the Cabinet Office of the Japan Government (Funding Program for Next Generation World-Leading Researchers (NEXT Program), grant no. GZ006, N.I.).

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All authors contributed to the design and methodology of this study. K.M. led the survey design, statistical analysis, writing and revisions of the manuscript, with input from all other authors. K.K. provided the code for the latent class logit model with the EM algorithm. The initial concept for LIME was developed by N.I. and K.K.

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Correspondence to Kayo Murakami.

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Nature Sustainability thanks Ganga Shreedhar and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Murakami, K., Itsubo, N. & Kuriyama, K. Explaining the diverse values assigned to environmental benefits across countries. Nat Sustain 5, 753–761 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-022-00914-8

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