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Discussion paper: information about climate change influences individual behaviour

Individuals’ actions contribute significantly to carbon emissions. Thus, it is also up to them to help mitigate climate change: both directly by changing their daily habits and consumption, and indirectly by supporting environmentally friendly policies. A recent Bundesbank discussion paper shows that providing information on combating climate change motivates individuals to reduce their carbon footprint. Presenting the information as the result of scientific research is just as effective as framing it as the behaviour of other people, the study finds. Both approaches led to the survey respondents stating that they wish to make more environmentally friendly choices.

The paper begins by examining whether there is any correlation between the provision of information on combating climate change and the willingness of individuals to pay for carbon offsetting. To this end, the authors conducted an experiment using the Bundesbank Online Panel Households (BOP-HH) in which they gave treatment groups information about measures to reduce one’s carbon footprint which was identical but prepared in different ways. Participants received information stating that an individual’s carbon emissions can be reduced effectively by avoiding excessive meat consumption or unnecessary travel by plane or car.

Greater willingness to offset emissions

The results of the study demonstrate that providing information about measures to combat climate change increases an individual’s willingness to pay for emissions offsetting. Framing the information as the behaviour of peers is just as effective as framing it as scientific research, the paper’s authors write. Persons who were already more positively disposed towards combating climate change responded more strongly to the information provided, according to their statements.

Majority interested in information on climate change

The researchers then performed an information acquisition experiment to study whether respondents were interested in receiving information about climate change. In addition, they explored the question of whether the willingness to pay for carbon offsetting increases when physical climate risks are emphasised first.

They report that the majority of respondents opted to receive information about climate change over information on other topics or no information at all. Where the importance of climate change was more heavily emphasised, the willingness to pay for carbon offsetting within this group only increased for persons whose prior beliefs about climate change were less strong.

Based on the results of the study and the experiment, the paper concludes “that informing individuals of ways to combat climate change can be a powerful tool in persuading them to reduce their carbon footprint”.