How Strong is Public Support for Unilateral Climate Policy and What Drives it?

WIREs Climate Change. DOI: 10.1002/wcc.484

Posted: 27 Nov 2017 Last revised: 12 Dec 2017

Date Written: August 11, 2017


Conventional wisdom holds that climate change poses a global public goods problem, thus requiring a global solution that reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide through some form of centralized target setting and burden-sharing arrangement among countries. Yet, the 2015 Paris Agreement has essentially given up on this approach, on which the 1997 Kyoto Protocol was based, and now relies on policies that are adopted unilaterally and voluntarily by individual countries. Since ambitious climate policies are very unlikely to be enacted and effectively implemented without strong public support, research is beginning to explore how strong public support is for unilateral climate policy and what its determinants are. Recent research has developed useful survey instruments to gauge public support for unilateral climate policy. Results from surveys and survey-embedded experiments show that when respondents are confronted with cost implications and free-riding problems associated with unilateral climate policy, public support tends to drop to some extent, but still remains quite high. Current research thus shows that people are—the hitherto strong global public goods framing of climate policy notwithstanding—surprisingly nonreciprocal in their climate policy preferences. Preferences concerning climate policy tend to be driven primarily by a range of personal predispositions and cost considerations, which existing research has already explored quite extensively, rather than by considerations of what other countries do. WIREs Clim Change 2017, 8:e484. doi: 10.1002/wcc.484

Keywords: public opinion, unilateral climate policy, preferences

Suggested Citation

McGrath, Liam and Bernauer, Thomas, How Strong is Public Support for Unilateral Climate Policy and What Drives it? (August 11, 2017). WIREs Climate Change. DOI: 10.1002/wcc.484. Available at SSRN:

Liam McGrath (Contact Author)

University of Essex ( email )

Wivenhoe Park
Colchester, CO4 3SQ
United Kingdom

Thomas Bernauer

ETH Zurich ( email )

Center for Comparative and International Studies
Building IFW, office 45.1, Haldeneggsteig 4
Zurich 8092, 8092
+41 44 632 6466 (Phone)
+41 44 632 1289 (Fax)


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