More economic struggle, less care about the environment

09/15/2023 - When international trade hurts people economically, they care less about environmental issues, finds a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. An international team of scientists shows that economic shocks drive trade-exposed groups more doubtful towards climate change, leading to a withdrawing support for sustainable and green policies.
More economic struggle, less care about the environment
Photo: John Cameron/Unsplash

In their study, the researchers looked at how trade exposure affects voting at the regional and individual level and then analyzed how this exposure affects people´s attitudes. The analysis covers the United States and 15 countries of Western Europe, over the period
of 2000 to 2019.

The scientists find that higher trade exposure leads to lower support for environmentalist parties and to more sceptical attitudes about climate change. Trade exposure can make people support political parties that aren't keen on further globalization. These parties might also downplay climate change issues.

According to the study, across the US and Europe, people in regions that were more exposed to trade are less likely to believe that efforts to fight climate change can benefit the economy and jobs. They are more likely to feel that their income isn't enough for an acceptable standard of living, and they expect their country's economic situation to worsen in the next year. These individuals are less likely to agree that environmental protection should be a priority.

 “Our results suggest that reducing the unequal impacts of international trade is key to strengthen support for environmental policies in Western democracies”, explains Charlotte Bez, scientist at the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research (PIK) and lead-author of the study.

As a possible policy instrument to solve this issue, the authors name the carbon border adjustment mechanism. It could help to avoid further worsening of the socio-economic situation of trade-exposed groups and generate tariff revenues that could be used to compensate vulnerable households.


Charlotte Bez, Valentina Bosetti, Italo Colantone & Maurizio Zanardi (2023): Exposure to international trade lowers green voting and worsens environmental attitudes. Nature Climate Change. [DOI: 10.1038/s41558-023-01789-z]


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