Climate protection can be made socially acceptable

An MCC-led meta-study evaluates the side-effects & risks of evaluated policy measures taken to date to combat global warming.

Insulating a house: support schemes for energy efficiency retrofits are one of the many policy instruments investigated. | Photo: Shutterstock-Allabond


Climate and energy policies often fall short of delivering positive social outcomes, such as individual wellbeing, a fair distribution of wealth, and community cohesion. This is not in the nature of things, but can be avoided, as shown in an elaborate meta-study led by the Berlin climate research institute MCC (Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change) shows. According to the study, there are now success stories for all major policy instruments, both in industrialised and developing countries. The study has just been published in the renowned journal Environmental Research Letters.

Using a systematic method of searching, selecting and reviewing the entire research on implemented climate policies, the authors investigated how well governments have performed in delivering good social outcomes alongside climate protection. "Poorly designed climate policies that exacerbate social problems are a gift to the coal and oil industry," says William Lamb, researcher in the MCC working group Applied Sustainability Research, and lead author of the study. "We need to avoid this at all costs, otherwise lobbyists will exploit such mistakes in order to roll back regulations and limit their compliance costs.”

The study investigates climate policies such as higher fuel taxes, carbon pricing in the energy sector, subsidies for solar cells, support schemes for energy efficiency retrofits, feed-in tariffs for green electricity, and major projects such as dam construction. For each policy instrument, there are examples of socially acceptable implementation, such as the Warm Front Home Energy Efficiency Scheme in the UK, which lowered fuel bills for low-income households, but also of failed projects, such as large hydropower installations in South East Asia, which have had serious impacts on livelihoods and poverty.

"All in all, our study generates confidence," MCC researcher Lamb argues. "For where the fight against global warming is not only well-intentioned, but also well executed, the much-cited co-benefits of climate policy can be well demonstrated. This should encourage us to support ambitious climate measures that also directly tackle social issues.” However, according to the meta-study, the research on implemented policies is still in its infancy. There is still relatively little relevant literature on the subject, and most concentrates on Western industrialised countries, with a narrow focus on single measures rather than politics as a whole.

Reference of the cited article:
Lamb, W., Antal, M., Bohnenberger, K., Brand-Correa, L., Müller-Hansen, F., Jakob, M., Minx, J., Raiser, K., Williams, L., Sovacool, B., 2020, What are the social outcomes of climate policies? A systematic map and review of the ex-post literature, Environment Research Letters