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Effects of fairness principles on willingness to pay for climate change mitigation


Despite the shift from multilateral negotiations on legally binding mitigation commitments to the decentralized nonbinding Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) approach in global climate policy, governments and other stakeholders continue to insist that fairness principles guide the overall effort. Key recurring principles in this debate are capacity and historical responsibility. To keep global warming within the internationally agreed 2 °C limit, many countries will have to engage in more ambitious climate policies relative to current INDCs. Public support will be crucial in this respect. We thus explore the implications of different fairness principles for citizens’ preferences concerning burden sharing in climate policy. To this end, we implemented an online experiment in which participants (N = 414) played an ultimatum game. Participants were tasked with sharing the costs of climate change mitigation. The aim was to examine how participants’ willingness to pay for mitigation was influenced by capacity and historical responsibility considerations. The results show that fairness principles do have a strong effect and that participants applied fairness principles differently depending on their position at the outset. It turns out that participants paid more attention to other players’ capacity and historical responsibility when proposing a particular cost allocation and more attention to their own capacity and responsibility when responding to proposals by others. These and other findings suggest that framing climate policy in terms of internationally coordinated unilateral measures is likely to garner more public support than framing climate policy in terms of a global bargaining effort over the mitigation burden.

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Fig. 1


  1. UNFCCC, (Accessed 28 November 2016)

  2. UNFCCC, (Accessed 28 November 2016)

  3. Council of Foreign Relations, (Accessed 28 November 2016)

  4. Climate Action Tracker, (Accessed 28 November 2016)

  5. Public goods games are used to simulate climate negotiations to understand how different factors affect the production of a public good (see Barrett 2003, 2006, 2011; Buchanan et al. 2009; Burton-Chellew et al. 2013; Dutta and Radner 2009; Milinski et al. 2008, 2011; Tavoni et al. 2011). Our interest is in the behavior of a participant and how their behavior is motivated by fairness preferences meaning an ultimatum game is more appropriate.

  6. nodeGame, (Accessed 1 December 2016)

  7. Amazon Mechanical Turk, (Accessed 1 December)

  8. If all players participated in all rounds, we would have 1242 rounds. This is due to a technical malfunction or players voluntarily disconnecting before the end of the game. This is one of the first applications of nodeGame. On the 17 and 24 April, the server overloaded meaning participants were kicked out of the game prior to completing all the rounds. We addressed this problem later on. Other participants left the game prior to completion either voluntarily or their computer malfunctioned. We tested if samples were balanced in the endogenous and exogenous conditions with respect to historical responsibility, capacity, and other player characteristics. We found no significant differences so dropouts should not affect our results.

  9. We calculated the VIF for historical responsibility against capacity, risk aversion, altruism, ecological concern, round, and prior participation. We repeated this for capacity again historical responsibility and the other covariates. Both values were over 5.

  10. Climate Outreach, (Accessed 1 December 2016)


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The research for this article was funded by the ERC Advanced Grant ‘Sources of Legitimacy in Global Environmental Governance’ (Grant 295456) and supported by ETH Zürich. We are grateful to Robert Gampfer, Mike Hudecheck, Vally Koubi, Liam McGrath, Lionel Miserez, Irina Shaymerdenova, and Florian Schmidt.

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Correspondence to Brilé Anderson.

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Anderson, B., Bernauer, T. & Balietti, S. Effects of fairness principles on willingness to pay for climate change mitigation. Climatic Change 142, 447–461 (2017).

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  • Climate Policy
  • Ultimatum Game
  • Historical Responsibility
  • Mitigation Cost
  • Burden Sharing