Utrecht University: Widespread support for ambitious climate policy if four conditions are met

Onshore wind, increased gas prices or a meat tax? What do Dutch citizens think about national climate policy? Researchers enabled 10.000 citizens to advise the government on climate policy through a so-called Participatory Value Evaluation. This public engagement method particularly facilitates involvement of the silent majority. On June 17th researchers handed over the final report to Ed Nijpels, president of the Negotiations on the Dutch Climate Agreement, followed by a presentation of results to the House of Representatives.

Involving society in climate policy
As more stringent climate targets have recently been set in the EU, the newly established Dutch government needs to decide upon policy options to reduce greenhouse gases such as CO2. The House of Representatives aspires to involve societal actors in these decisions. Therefore, researchers at the TU Delft and Utrecht University developed the public climate evaluation tool, in which over 10.000 citizens advised the government on climate policy.

The PVE is an innovative online public engagement method which stretches beyond opinion polls and referendums. A referendum typically reduces complex governance issues to a ‘yes-or-no’ question. The PVE allows citizens to express their preferences based on an overall picture of policy options and their associated effects. This way, citizens are given the opportunity to evaluate policy options in relation to each other, to motivate and nuance their preferences and to bring in their own ideas. By putting citizens in the shoes of the policymaker, as it were, they gain a better understanding of the complexity of government decision-making.

Four conditions determine policy support by the silent majority
The results of the public climate evaluation show that 25% of Dutch citizens are outspoken in their opinion about climate policy. This includes strong opponents who denounce more stringent climate policy and strong advocates who believe climate policy is never ambitious enough. Four key conditions could contribute to support by a silent majority of about 75% for more ambitious Dutch climate policy:

Climate policies that personally affect citizens are only acceptable if alternative policies are visibly adopted and the government takes strong measures towards large polluting sectors
Protect low-income citizens and avoid an increasing gap between rich and poor
The polluter pays
The societal benefits should outweigh the costs and policies are only acceptable if no better alternative is available
Policies personally affecting citizens
The acceptance of climate policies that personally affect citizens, such as a meat tax and onshore wind, will be higher if the government has done everything in its power to adopt policies with no or a small effect on citizens (such as offshore wind, subsidizing home insulation and solar panels on roofs). The silent majority prefers policy measures that strongly affect polluting sectors, such as an air passenger tax or carbon tax for the industry.

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