Research

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Climate Change Attention & Media Coverage

Media coverage of climate change is arguably a fundamental factor shaping climate change attitudes and possibly behaviors, but its trends and determinants are still underinvestigated. In this paper, we analyze a comprehensive dataset representing more than 1.7 million online news articles covering climate change in the 28 countries of the European Union in 22 different languages for the period 2014–2019. We combine our news dataset with observed temperature data to investigate whether and how temperature abnormalities influence media coverage of climate change. We find that the strongest determinants of media coverage are positive deviations from short-term average temperatures. Abnormalities with respect to average temperatures in recent years have stronger effects than abnormalities with respect to temperatures in baseline periods that climatologists use to identify changes in climate. This suggests that the media are less influenced by scientific accounts of climatic changes than by shorter-term changes in weather patterns.


Sisco, M.R., Pianta, S., Weber, E.U., & Bosetti, V. (2021) Global climate strikes sharply raise attention to climate change: Analysis of climate search behavior in 46 countries. Journal of Environmental Psychology.

We examine attention to climate change in 46 countries across six continents from 2015 through 2019 by analyzing internet search activity in ten languages. We find that information seeking about climate change, measured by internet searches, notably increased in 2019 relative to prior years. Next, we analyze the impact of global climate marches on internet search activity and find that climate activist events are powerful drivers of attention compared to political events (United Nations Climate Change Conferences) and temperature abnormalities. To explore the role of media coverage, we estimate the effects of climate marches while controlling for weekly news coverage of climate change and find evidence supporting the notion of media attention mediating the effects of climate protests. Lastly, we quantify the duration of the increases in information seeking produced by these events. We find the durations are short-lived, with attention only staying above pre-event levels for several days. As the literature to date has paid scarce attention to public demonstrations as sources of influence on the public’s attention to climate change, we suggest these results implore the field to focus more research on the impacts of climate activist events.


Climate Policy Preferences, Environmental Attitudes & Behaviors

Policies to phase out fossil fuel cars are key to averting dangerous and irreversible changes to the earth’s climate. Here we study the role of specific policy design features in shaping Americans’ preferences for policy proposals to phase out fossil fuel cars. Based on a demographically representative sample of 1,520 American residents rating 24,320 hypothetical policy scenarios in a conjoint experiment, we find that Americans prefer phase-out policies to be implemented no later than 2030. We also find that subsidies for alternative technologies are preferred over taxes and bans and policy co-benefits in terms of pollution reduction increase public support only when they are substantial. The study also investigates the role of individual characteristics in shaping policy preferences, finding that perceived psychological distance of climate change and party identification have a key influence on policy preferences. The results of this study have important implications for the political feasibility of rapid decarbonization initiatives. Among these is the insight that smart sequencing of policies might help ensure majority support for a fossil fuel car phase-out.

What are the roles of bottom-up and top-down signals in the formation of climate change policy preferences? Using a large sample of American residents (n = 1520) and combining an experimental manipulation of descriptive social norms with two choice experiments, we investigate the effects of descriptive norms and policy endorsements by key political actors on climate policy support. We study these questions in two areas considered to be central in a number of decarbonization pathways: the phase-out of fossil fuel-powered cars and the deployment of carbon capture and storage. Our study provides two important results. First, social norm interventions may be no silver bullet for increasing citizens’ support for ambitious climate policies. In fact, we not only find that climate policy support is unaffected by norm messages communicating an increased diffusion of pro-environmental behaviors, but also that norm messages communicating the prevalence of non-sustainable behaviors decrease policy support. Second, in the presence of policy endorsements by political parties, citizens’ trust in these parties influences their support for climate policies. This study contributes to research in behavioral climate policy by examining the impact of descriptive norms and elite cues on climate policy support.

Although Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies can potentially play an important role in climate change mitigation efforts, commercial CCS projects are still rare. Knowledge about the technical challenges of these technologies is rapidly advancing, but the challenges related to their public acceptance are still underinvestigated. Here we try to close this research gap by investigating public perceptions of CCS and public attitudes towards policies to scale up these technologies in the United States, where most existing industrial-scale CCS projects are operating. Based on a demographically representative sample of US residents, we find that awareness of CCS is very low. Using a conjoint experiment, we show that policies that outlaw the construction of new coal- and gas-fired power plants without CCS find higher public support than CCS subsidies and increases in taxes on unabated fossil fuel power generation. Public support decreases with rising costs of CCS deployment and decreasing minimal distance requirements of CCS plants from residential areas. Our results provide insights into the political feasibility of a large-scale deployment of CCS and show that specific policy design choices play an important role in influencing public support for policies to scale up these technologies.

Constantino, S.M., Pianta, S., Rinscheid, A., Frey, R., and Weber, E.U. (2021) The source is the message: The impact of institutional signals on climate change-related norm perceptions and behaviors. Climatic Change.

With mandates and taxes to mitigate climate change proving politically challenging to implement, some scholars and policy makers have started looking to social norms as a vehicle for large-scale behavioral change. This raises the question of whether formal institutions or organizations are able to influence social norms and behavior. We designed a randomized experiment with a sample of 3627 American residents to investigate how social norm perceptions and behaviors change in response to institutional signals about climate change, and how this varies with signal source. We found that institutional signals, in particular when originating from science or business actors, shifted perceptions of descriptive social norms about climate action. Institutional signals also influenced intended pro-environmental behaviors, but did not increase personal contributions to environmental causes, suggesting that a shift in perceived norms may be insufficient to drive personal action, especially when it involves personal costs. Our study not only emphasizes the importance of institutional signals and messengers in changing perceptions of social norms, but also highlights the complexities involved in norm interventions ultimately aimed at influencing behavior.

Social and Political Feasibility of Climate Mitigation Pathways

Brutschin, E., Pianta, S., Tavoni, M., Riahi, K., Bosetti, V., Marangoni, G., and van Ruijven, B. (2021) A multidimensional feasibility evaluation of low-carbon scenarios. Environmental Research Letters.

Long-term mitigation scenarios developed by integrated assessment models underpin major aspects of recent IPCC reports and have been critical to identify the system transformations that are required to meet stringent climate goals. However, they have been criticized for proposing pathways that may prove challenging to implement in the real world and for failing to capture the social and institutional challenges of the transition. This paper proposes a novel and versatile multidimensional framework that allows evaluating and comparing decarbonization pathways by systematically quantifying feasibility concerns across geophysical, technological, economic, socio-cultural and institutional dimensions. This framework enables to assess the timing, disruptiveness and scale of feasibility concerns, and to identify trade-offs across different feasibility dimensions. As a first implementation of the proposed framework, we map the feasibility concerns of the IPCC 1.5 °C Special Report scenarios. We select 24 quantitative indicators and propose feasibility thresholds based on insights from an extensive analysis of the literature and empirical data. Our framework is, however, flexible and allows evaluations based on different thresholds or aggregation rules. Our analyses show that institutional constraints, which are often not accounted for in scenarios, are key drivers of feasibility concerns. Moreover, we identify a clear intertemporal trade-off, with early mitigation being more disruptive but preventing higher and persistent feasibility concerns produced by postponed mitigation action later in the century.


Pianta, S., Brutschin, E. van Ruijven, B. and Bosetti, V. (2021). Faster or slower decarbonization? Policymaker and stakeholder expectations on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global energy transition. Energy Research & Social Science.

The COVID-19 pandemic might have tremendous consequences on decarbonization efforts across the globe. Understanding governments’ policy action in the short and medium term is key to assess whether the response to the crisis will crowd out or fast-track decarbonization efforts. We surveyed over 200 policymakers and stakeholders from 55 different countries to collect climate policy expectations in various sectors and regions in the next five years. While support for high-emitting sectors is not expected to dissolve completely, commitment to policies supporting the transition to low-carbon energy and transport sectors is expected to increase substantially. This is true for OECD and Asian countries, representing approximately 90% of global emissions. Our results suggest that expectations that the COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate decarbonization efforts are widely shared.