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Climate change experiences raise environmental concerns and promote Green voting

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  • Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital
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Public support is fundamental in scaling up actions to limit global warming. Here, we analyse how the experience of climate extremes influences people’s environmental attitudes and willingness to vote for Green parties in Europe. To this end, we combined high-resolution climatological data with regionally aggregated, harmonized Eurobarometer data (34 countries) and European Parliamentary electoral data (28 countries). Our findings show a significant and sizeable effect of temperature anomalies, heat episodes and dry spells on environmental concern and voting for Green parties. The magnitude of the climate effect differs substantially across European regions. It is stronger in regions with a cooler Continental or temperate Atlantic climate and weaker in regions with a warmer Mediterranean climate. The relationships are moderated by regional income level suggesting that climate change experiences increase public support for climate action but only under favourable economic conditions. The findings have important implications for the current efforts to promote climate action in line with the Paris Agreement. Exposure to extreme weather events could increase environmental concerns and support for Green parties. With high-resolution data across European countries, the authors demonstrate the existence of such effect, then further discuss the heterogeneity and possible mechanisms.
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https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-021-01263-8
1International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital (IIASA, OeAW, University
of Vienna), Laxenburg, Austria. 2Vienna Institute of Demography (OeAW), Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital (IIASA,
OeAW, University of Vienna), Vienna, Austria. 3Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Potsdam, Germany. 4Department of Statistical
Sciences, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy. 5Department of Social and Political Sciences, and Dondena Centre Bocconi University, Milan, Italy.
e-mail: hoffmannr@iiasa.ac.at; muttarak@iiasa.ac.at; peisker@iiasa.ac.at; piero.stanig@unibocconi.it
While about two decades ago climate change and associated
extreme events were psychologically distant for many
Europeans, in the past years Europe has witnessed its
warmest years on record resulting in an increase in climate-related
hazards1. In summer 2021, the number of wildfires more than
doubled that of the annual average of the past decade in Europe2
and several western European countries, especially Germany and
Belgium, experienced their most devastating floods since the past
couple of decades. In fact, the series of heatwaves in Europe since
2015 has been the most extreme in the past 2,110 years3, highlight-
ing the urgent need for climate action.
While individual behavioural changes are an important ele-
ment of mitigation action, decarbonization of the economy requires
structural reforms that bring public and macroeconomic policies,
such as taxes, subsidies and government spending in line with the
European Union (EU) ambition to move towards a climate-neutral
economy. To fulfil its commitments under the Paris Agreement, the
EU has pledged to cut at least 55% of its greenhouse gas emissions
from 1990 levels by 20304. This requires radical transformations in
production and consumption involving all sectors ranging from
energy to land use, agriculture, transport, buildings, industry and
waste management. To achieve this transition, broad support by the
public is crucial.
Over the past two decades, awareness and concern for envi-
ronmental issues have risen across Europe, thanks partly to recent
climate movements and media coverage5. Whereas in 2002, less
than 5% of Europeans agreed that environmental issues should be
a priority for their country, this proportion had more than tripled in
2019 (Fig. 1a) with Nordic countries taking a leading role (Fig. 1b).
These changes can contribute to achieving the sustainability trans-
formation by catalysing public support for climate action and
inducing policy change6. Indeed, a substantial rise in the vote share
of Green parties in the last European Parliamentary elections in
2019 reflects the increasing salience of the climate crisis and public
concern about environmental and climate issues7. Between 2004 and
2019 the percentage of seats held by Green parties in the European
Parliament increased by 74% from 5.7% to 9.9% (Fig. 1c,d).
Understanding the drivers of changes in public concern and
support for Green parties is important to identify the mechanisms
underlying transformations towards a greener economy and more
sustainable society. Here, we empirically investigate the effect of more
frequent and intense experiences with climate extremes on envi-
ronmental concern and analyse to what extent changes in concerns
translate into actual political support for Green parties811.We exploit
time-series Eurobarometer data (42 survey waves, 20022019) and
European Parliament election data (six elections, 19942019) to
analyse changes in concerns and voting at the subnational level
across 34 and 28 European countries, respectively (Supplementary
Tables 1 and 2). Our regional panel dataset allows us to causally test
for the impacts of climatic extremes while controlling for unobserved
heterogeneity and time trends using fixed effects models.
Experiencing the consequences of climate change can support
the experiential processing and learning of information about cli-
mate risks and can thus influence the formation of environmental
attitudes and concerns and ultimately the willingness to support cli-
mate action1216 (Box 1). Existing evidence shows that people who
have experienced unusual weather and extreme climatic events
are more likely to believe in the existence of global warming and
its anthropogenic causes17,18, to express concern about climate
change19,20, to show willingness to engage in mitigation actions21 and
to be in favour of climate policies22,23.
Our study provides three key contributions to the literature.
First, we present evidence on the causal linkages between exposure
to extreme climate events, environmental concerns and voting.
There is limited empirical evidence on the links between climate
change experiences and voting outcomes, especially for such major
elections as the European Parliament24,25. Here, we overcome the
common empirical difficulty of capturing how concerns are
Climate change experiences raise environmental
concerns and promote Green voting
Roman Hoffmann 1,2,3 ✉ , Raya Muttarak 1,4 ✉ , Jonas Peisker 1,2 ✉ and Piero Stanig 5 ✉
Public support is fundamental in scaling up actions to limit global warming. Here, we analyse how the experience of climate
extremes influences people’s environmental attitudes and willingness to vote for Green parties in Europe. To this end, we
combined high-resolution climatological data with regionally aggregated, harmonized Eurobarometer data (34 countries) and
European Parliamentary electoral data (28 countries). Our findings show a significant and sizeable effect of temperature anom-
alies, heat episodes and dry spells on environmental concern and voting for Green parties. The magnitude of the climate effect
differs substantially across European regions. It is stronger in regions with a cooler Continental or temperate Atlantic climate
and weaker in regions with a warmer Mediterranean climate. The relationships are moderated by regional income level suggest-
ing that climate change experiences increase public support for climate action but only under favourable economic conditions.
The findings have important implications for the current efforts to promote climate action in line with the Paris Agreement.
NATURE CLIMATE CHANGE | VOL 12 | FEBRUARY 2022 | 148–155 | www.nature.com/natureclimatechange
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... We take into account the fact that the factors influencing individuals' responsible functioning on the micro-level are very complex. The relevant studies have revealed different impacts of income [45,51,52] and education [24,33,34,49,[53][54][55]. However, existing findings on the factors affecting responsible behavior often exceed demographic frames. ...
... Our regression analysis demonstrates that this is easier to achieve for younger, more educated individuals with a higher income. This is in line with previous research showing that well-educated and politically interested citizens are more interested in pro-environmental behavior [49,53,55] in terms of everyday practices on the one hand [24,34], and activism [33] and political preferences [54] on the other hand. Insufficient financial resources may also hinder pro-ecological behavior [51]. ...
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