What are the conditions for the social acceptance of CO2 pricing in Germany?
In 2021, Germany introduced carbon pricing for the transport sector and decentralised heating, in addition to the long-established EU emissions trading system. The starting price was only 25 euros per tonne of CO₂. The effect that this policy will have is expected to be rather low – and it is reasonable to assume that concerns about social acceptance are an obstacle to more ambitious CO₂ pricing.
How can CO2 pricing find social acceptance?
The project “COreFAKTEN – Social acceptance of a CO2 price for energy consumption” explored the conditions for the acceptance of carbon pricing in the general public. The qualitative portion of the study consisted of focus groups with people who are particularly affected by CO2 pricing and have to reckon with additional expenditures. The quantitative conjoint analysis also included a control group, representative of the entire population. The project analysed potential relief mechanisms including energy pricing, state investments in climate protection, the promotion of private investment in climate action, support for low-income households that are particularly affected by CO2 pricing, and a climate dividend (or so-called “climate money”).
COreFAKTEN – Social acceptance of a CO₂ price for energy consumption
adelphi took on the role of project management and provided major support for the project partners in the analysis of the social acceptance of a national CO₂ price in the form of behavioural economic, socio-psychological and communication science research.
Focus of the study: People particularly affected by carbon pricing
The study focused on groups that are particularly affected by the price of CO2 due to their limited financial resources or their current lifestyle. This includes, for example, single parents entitled to housing benefits who commute for professional or personal reasons, or pensioners who live in large spaces that require a lot of heat.
A short publication presents the results of the research along with recommendations. The majority of the study participants demonstrated a great deal of insight into the need for climate action, but they were also concerned about their personal finances. From their point of view, any positive effects on climate come from the use of the funds from the carbon pricing – not from the incentive effects of a higher price on things that damage the climate.
Surprisingly, the so-called “climate money” met with low rates of approval among participants – despite the fact that the climate dividend is intended as a socially just element of the carbon price on fuel and heating energy.
The results show that carbon pricing can certainly have a high level of acceptance if it achieves a good mix of effectiveness, user-based pricing and fair compensation measures. It is critical that the connection between CO2 pricing and relief is communicated effectively.
Anton Barckhausen, Project Lead
The research team attributes the lack of acceptance to the fact that many respondents interpret carbon pricing differently than experts do: the average citizen often sees pricing as a user-related cost and less as an incentive to change behaviour. This finding is critical: it shows that politicians need to better communicate the reasons for policies like carbon pricing and how they function.
Increasing the social acceptance of CO2 pricing
According to the authors, the key element for greater acceptance of CO2 pricing is communication. “In order to achieve a greater understanding and more trust in policy like CO2 pricing, the connection between income and expenditure should be explained in a transparent and factual manner, and the consequences for citizens should be made clear in concrete terms,” explains Dr. Martina Ziefle, Professor of Communication Science at RWTH Aachen University. For example, energy suppliers could make clear on the electricity bill what costs are reduced as a result of electricity price relief. Investment projects that are financed using the money from carbon pricing could be reported accordingly.
A survey of the participants also provided additional requirements for a communication strategy. For example, participants preferred options that involved codetermination, i.e. citizen involvement. They also prefer hearing about the positive effects of taking action over the negative consequences of no action.
Based on these and other findings of the empirical study, the authors have developed further recommendations for the design of CO2 pricing, the communication strategy and the social acceptance of funds like the climate dividend. Download the full report here.