Amid rising global temperatures and a wealth of international climate goals, the 2010s could arguably be called “The Climate Decade.” But how have the past ten years changed international opinions on climate mitigation measures?
A working paper published by Resources for the Future (RFF) reveals that citizens of China, Sweden, and the United States were willing to pay a larger portion of their income for emissions reduction measures in 2019 than in 2009, and were willing to prioritize environmental improvement even at the expense of jobs. The study and accompanying infographic demonstrate strong support for climate action across all three countries and increased support in the United States and China over the past decade.
Conducted in 2009 and 2019 by an international team of experts, the surveys measured how much each respondent would be willing to pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and their opinions on climate science and policy. Comparing the surveys provides a unique opportunity to investigate how opinions around the world have changed in the past decade.
- United States: Opinion in the United States has shifted toward a more positive attitude toward climate policies. Of the three nations surveyed, the largest changes in climate-related attitudes occurred here.
- In 2019, 60% of US respondents are willing to prioritize the environment, even at the expense of jobs—significantly more than in 2009 (40%).
- Willingness to pay for emissions reductions has increased in the United States across Democratic, Republican, and Independent voters. However, there has been an increasing gap in support between Republicans and Democrats.
- China: Opinion in China has shifted toward a more positive attitude about climate policies. Notably, Chinese respondents are more willing to pay a larger share of their income than respondents in Sweden or the United States.
- In 2019, 3% of Chinese respondents do not believe that global temperatures have not increased—less than in Sweden (7%) and the United States (16%).
- Up from 77% in 2009, 89% of Chinese respondents think their country should reduce carbon emissions, regardless of what other countries do—more than in Sweden (73%) or the United States (79%).
- Sweden: Climate opinions in Sweden have largely stagnated since 2009, although there has been a slight decrease in commitment to climate change policies. Attitudes toward climate policy are increasingly polarized.
- In 2019, 55% of Swedish respondents think that the environment should take priority even if jobs are lost (down from 61% in 2009).
- Less support for climate action exists among Swedish right-wing voters, and the share that shows support is considerably lower than among left-wing voters and centrists. However, the percentage of right-wing voters who think we can stop climate change increased from 6% in 2009 to 11% in 2019.
- Willingness to Pay: In the 2019 survey, Chinese citizens were willing to pay a greater share of their income—as much as 0.9% for an 30% reduction in emissions, compared to 0.8% in Sweden and 0.6% in the United States. The average value all three countries place on reducing a ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) increased from 2009.
“The study suggests that the public in these very different countries, supports stringent climate policy and is willing to pay to get it,” said paper coauthor and RFF Senior Fellow Alan Krupnick.
Coauthor Thomas Sterner of the University of Gothenburg said, “Willingness to pay per ton of reduced CO2 compares favorably to conventional measures of the social cost of carbon in China and the United States, and to carbon taxes in Sweden.”
To learn more about the results of this survey, read "The Climate Decade: Changing Attitudes on Three Continents," by Fredrik Carlsson (University of Gothenburg), Mitesh Kataria (University of Gothenburg), Alan Krupnick (RFF), Elina Lampi (University of Gothenburg), Åsa Löfgren (University of Gothenburg), Ping Qin (Renmin University of China), Thomas Sterner (University of Gothenburg and RFF), and Xiaojun Yang (Xi'an Jiaotong University).
Resources for the Future (RFF) is an independent, nonprofit research institution in Washington, DC. Its mission is to improve environmental, energy, and natural resource decisions through impartial economic research and policy engagement. RFF is committed to being the most widely trusted source of research insights and policy solutions leading to a healthy environment and a thriving economy.
Unless otherwise stated, the views expressed here are those of the individual authors and may differ from those of other RFF experts, its officers, or its directors. RFF does not take positions on specific legislative proposals.