Wind turbines in the landscape

Climate change concerns and actions – Can provision of information motivate people to fight climate change? Research Brief | 47th edition – May 2022

Are individuals concerned enough about climate change to change their behavior and bear additional costs as a consequence? How can they be motivated to fight climate change? A Bundesbank survey conducted between April 2020 and December 2021 shows that people are more concerned about climate change than about the state of the economy. During most of the ongoing pandemic, only the coronavirus was of a higher concern. While people who rate climate change as a serious issue are also more willing to take on additional costs to help fight climate change, providing information on ways to reduce carbon emissions further increases their willingness to do so.

Are people concerned about climate change?

Individuals have a crucial role to play in the fight against climate change: their support is essential for the successful implementation of often costly policies. They can directly help fight climate change by reducing carbon emissions through their consumption and investment choices. But are individuals concerned enough about climate change to change their behavior and bear related costs?

The Bundesbank Online Panel Households Survey (BOP-HH) reveals that Germans are highly concerned about climate change. Between April 2020 and December 2021 we asked respondents to rate from 1 to 10 the seriousness of climate change and of four other current issues: the coronavirus, the economic situation, the increasing number of refugees and Brexit. Figure 1 depicts the outcome of the survey. Climate change is persistently perceived as a serious concern, only second to the coronavirus, which scores the highest as a serious problem throughout most of the period considered. Only at the beginning of the pandemic in spring 2020, the economic situation and the refugee situation were rated higher than climate change. Brexit was of a much lesser concern throughout the study.

Figure 1: Self-reported perception of seriousness of current issues
Figure 1: Self-reported perception of seriousness of current issues

Evidently, Germans find climate change to be a serious problem. But to what extent do individuals take action to reduce carbon emissions and what kind of information motivates them to do so?

Willingness to mitigate climate change

In a recent paper (Bernard, Tzamourani and Weber, 2022), we showed that peoples’ willingness to contribute to fighting climate change can be increased by information on how to reduce individual carbon emissions. We in particular looked at the willingness to pay for offsetting air travel carbon emissions. We conducted a survey to find out how information affects respondents’ willingness to pay. Respondents were randomly split into three groups that all received different pieces of information. Two groups received fact-based information on how to reduce their carbon emissions, and the so-called control group received only unrelated information. The fact-based information stated that individuals can reduce their carbon emissions “by avoiding excessive meat consumption as well as unnecessary air travel and journeys by car.” The framing differed across groups: in one group the statement was presented as scientific evidence, i.e. either resulting from scientific research in general or from research by the Federal Government, so as to give the statement more credibility. In the other group, the statement was presented either as what “many other people in Germany are trying to do”, or as what “many people in the same age cohort are trying to do.” Respondents were asked which amount they would be willing to pay to offset air travel emissions before and after receiving the relevant piece of information. We then compared the willingness to pay between the two different groups and the control group, which had received an unrelated piece of information. The comparison revealed a statistically significant difference in the willingness to pay between the two groups and the control group. Providing information on how to fight climate change increases individuals’ willingness to pay for offsetting carbon emissions. Presenting the information as behaviour of peers is equally effective as presenting it as scientific research. What is more, while individuals who expressed higher concerns about climate change had a stronger reaction, there was also an increase in the willingness to pay in the group that was less concerned about climate change.

Conclusion

Individuals consider climate change a very serious issue. Providing information on ways how an individual can help fight climate change seems to be an effective way to increase the willingness of people to do so. Understanding better the effects of information provision and of the ways it is communicated can help improve the design of information campaigns to engage a larger share of the public in fighting climate change.

Disclaimer

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Deutsche Bundesbank or the Eurosystem.

Reference

  • Bernard René, Panagiota Tzamourani and Michael Weber (2022). Climate change and individual behavior. Discussion Paper, No. 01/2022, Deutsche Bundesbank.

Author

Panagiota Tzamourani
Panagiota Tzamourani
Senior Economist at Bundesbank Research Centre

News from the Research Centre

Publications

  • “Expectations formation, sticky prices, and the ZLB” by Patrick Hürtgen (Deutsche Bundesbank), Matthias Paustian (Federal Reserve Board) and Betsy Bersson (Duke University) will be published in the Journal of Money, Credit and Banking.
  • “The COVID-19 shock and challenges for inflation modelling” by Benny Hartwig (Deutsche Bundesbank) and Elena Bobeica (European Central Bank) will be published in the International Journal of Forecasting.

Events

  • 9th International Conference on Sovereign Bond Markets
    27. – 28.04.2023 | Boston
    joint with Volatility and Risk Institute at NYU Stern, the Leibniz Institute for Financial Research SAFE, Brevan Howard Centre for Financial Analysis at Imperial College, AQR Asset Management Institute at London Business School, the Bank of Canada, and the European Central Bank