How Much Carbon Offsetting and Where? Implications of Efficiency, Effectiveness, and Ethicality Considerations for Public Opinion Formation
Energy Policy 94: 387–395
Posted: 30 Nov 2017 Last revised: 12 Dec 2017
Date Written: July 1, 2016
A fundamental policy design choice in government-led climate change mitigation is: what role should flexibility mechanisms like carbon offsetting play in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Since public opinion affects the policy choices of government, we investigate how arguments regarding carbon offsetting's economic efficiency, effectiveness, and ethicality, which have been key points in the public debate, impact the public's preferences. We fielded an online framing experiment in the United States (N=995) to empirically identify how arguments for and against carbon offsetting influence public preferences for the inclusion of offsetting in national GHG mitigation policy. We find that the public's support for international offsetting increases and support for reductions at their source (i.e. within firms' own operations) diminishes when considerations of economic efficiency gains are at the forefront. Support for offsetting declines when individuals are confronted with arguments concerning its effectiveness and ethicality, which suggests that future policies will require clear standards of additionality in order to address these concerns. Moreover, we find that how carbon offsetting is framed matters even amongst climate skeptics and support could potentially be enhanced via improved communication on efficiency gains.
Keywords: Climate change mitigation, Carbon offsetting, Public opinion, Online framing experiment
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