Political trust linked to support for emissions reduction measures

political trust
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A new study has identified links between citizens’ overall levels of trust in the political system and support for increased action on climate change.

The study, ‘Political trust and the relationship between climate change beliefs and support for fossil fuel taxes: evidence from a survey of 23 European countries’, was conducted with funding support from social sciences grants programme Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation, the Swedish Research Council; and Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, a Swedish foundation offering grants for an array of research projects. It was published in the Global Environmental Change journal. Researchers at Umeå University in Sweden examined data from the European Social Survey to determine the proportion of residents in EU Member States who expressed a fundamental belief in anthropogenic climate change; which they compared to the proportion in each country who supported an increase in taxes on fossil fuels.

The researchers found that residents’ belief in the climate emergency remained largely static between countries, with around 75% of Europeans acknowledging the existence of climate change, trust in politicians and the political systems of each country varied widely. On average around a third of the residents surveyed expressed support for higher taxes on fossil fuels to offset the carbon emissions these fuels produce, but the study found that respondents’ support for a tax rise on fossil fuels was significantly higher in countries with higher levels of political trust – such as Sweden – than those where trust in politics was lower, such as Poland and Spain.

Malcolm Fairbrother, one of the authors of the study, said: “What we found is that political distrust is currently a more serious barrier to climate action than is simple denial of the problem.”

Taxation of fossil fuels is considered an effective means of deterring activities which produce high levels of carbon emissions, despite the measure’s limited popularity. By imposing increased taxes on sources of excessive pollution, governments are able to contribute to climate change mitigation by discouraging polluting activities, as well as potentially compensating for the extra cost to users by reducing taxes elsewhere.

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