Social norms and preferences towards climate change policies: A meta-analysis

by Sam Peterson

While climate change consensus has been growing in the last two decades, response to the alarming effects of it has not kept pace. There are various explanations for this societal inertia, including misinformation, lack of trust in government, and knowledge gaps (Norgaard 2009). Alló et. al. (2014) examined, by way of meta-analysis, preferences regarding climate change action based on factors incorporating social norms and temporal restrictions in different countries. The study assessed data from completed analyses regarding climate change action preferences and measured several dependent variables, including whether the study proposed mitigation or adaptation strategies, households’ willingness to pay (WTP), and forms of monetary support proposed by the included studies. Alló concludes that mitigation actions are preferred over adaptation actions, countries with long-term outlooks have higher WTP, and preferable policies encourage the prevention of disasters, like heat waves, as opposed to creation of and investment in greener technologies.

Climate change could impact global gross domestic product by 5% to 20% in many countries (Hallegatte and Corfee-Morlot, 2011, cited by Alló 2014), but despite warning signs like an increased frequency of severe storms, very few countries have imposed restrictive emissions caps. Global emissions have grown by 50% since 1990, spurred by the rapid expansion of the Chinese and some South American economies. In order to assess preferences regarding climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies, the study used willingness to pay (WTP) as an indicator of social inclination toward policies. The rapidly expanding field of behavioral economics provides some insight into consumer decision-making regarding climate change. If one considers effective halting of climate change as a public good, the economic free-rider problem arises, where there is no restriction on who can partake in the benefits of said good (Brekke and Johansson-Stenman 2008a, 2008b, cited by Alló 2014). In theory, this would incentivize those who did not have to pay for climate change policies to support them. This factor was included in the meta-analysis, as traditional economic models would predict individuals to be extremely self-serving in decision-making.

The analysis included 58 studies from multiple continents, but found that over half of existing climate policy preference research is done in America (52.18%), followed by Europe (34.15%) and Asia (9.03%). On average, studies included 6.1 observations, and were separated by the way they were conducted (face to face, telephone, internet). In order to account for changes in WTP by currency value, a Purchasing Power Parity Index (PPP) was used ($USD 2012). The authors then analyzed the number of climactic disasters in each country where a study was conducted, in order to test whether being near effects of climate change would correlate with a higher WTP. The researchers also accounted for political orientation in each country, as it has been demonstrated that “people with left-wing tendencies have a higher WTP for environmental programs than those who have a more conservative view” (Carlsson et al., 2010; Solomon and Johnson, 2009; Wiser, 2007; Berrens et al., 2004, cited by Alló 2014). The final variable controlled for was temporal outlook, defined by Hofstede (2001). Societies with long term orientation are those that “show an ability to adapt traditions to changed conditions, a strong propensity to save and invest, thriftiness, and perseverance in achieving results.”

After running several regressions on the data set, including Ordinary Least Squares (OLS), Generalized Least Squares (GLS) and Random Effects Model (RE), the authors concluded people who have had more cumulative experience with climate change-caused weather conditions and those who were contacted for studies over the internet generally have a higher WTP than others. People are generally more likely to want to pay for preventative policies (mitigation) over adaptive policies or even a mix of both. This conclusion is useful for continued use in global climate policy growth, as societal preferences will generally determine whether legislation is effective and worthwhile, as well as providing a possible explanation for apathy regarding climate change action.

Alló, M. and M. L. Loureiro (2014). “The role of social norms on preferences towards climate change policies: A meta-analysis.” Energy Policy 73(0): 563-574.


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