A large majority of Canadians support climate policies, a comprehensive new survey of citizen attitudes has found, and there appears to be no correlation between political opinion and this strong support, in stark contrast to the neighbouring United States. However, not all types of climate policy are equally well received, with carbon taxes opposed by roughly half the population.
Opinion polls about climate change are common enough, but they can sometimes feature small samples of respondents, do not always explore what sort of factors are associated with support for climate action, and often do not consider attitudes toward different types of climate policies.
But this month, a trio of Simon Fraser University-based academics led by former PICS Fellow Ekaterina Rhodes released an in-depth study of the attitudes of just over 1300 individuals across the country toward nine categories of climate policies published in the journal Ecological Economics. Also of interest is the high level of detail exploring what factors affect people’s opinions.
The researchers considered levels of support for carbon taxation, emissions trading (cap-and-trade), a clean electricity standard (in effect the closing of coal plants), vehicle efficiency regulations, a low-carbon fuel standard (for all uses of fuel, not just cars), building energy efficiency regulations, subsidies, education, and research and development.
All policies received majority support, but the standards and regulations received the most support (83-90%), while market-based instruments (carbon taxation and cap-and-trade) confronted the most opposition (47 and 30 percent respectively).
The researchers found no correlation between supporting any one of the five main political parties in the country and support or opposition to climate policies in general.
The older the respondent, the more likely they were to support a regulatory approach as opposed to a market-based approach, and the wealthier the respondent, the more likely they were to support voluntary actions.
Which province a citizen lived in also had a major influence on what sort of policy they might support. Regulations were most likely to be supported by Atlantic Canada. A carbon tax was more likely to be supported by residents of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan compared to residents of Ontario. And voluntary policies were most likely to be supported by those from Quebec, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
There were three characteristics or values that indicated a respondent was most likely to support a majority of all the policy types: being concerned about climate change, trust in scientists, and being female—attributes that have been similarly identified by other surveys. But those most likely to oppose many of the policies were those who were not concerned about climate change, who distrusted environmentalists and scientists, and who had high trust in the fossil fuel industry. Most of these respondents were in turn less educated, male, and residents of Alberta or Ontario.
And other than location, the only characteristic associated with support for a carbon tax was trust in government, even though carbon taxation is a policy based on the notion that the market is a more economically efficient mechanism for achieving a given outcome than government regulation.
Energy economist Mark Jaccard helped design BC’s carbon tax, and he still supports it. But he questions just how politically viable a stringent tax—at the level needed to meet climate targets—can really be. So he also continues to explore how other policies that the public find more acceptable could work.