New study: Public acceptance for carbon pricing, less so for climate money

A team led by adelphi carried out empirical research on the public approval of carbon pricing and different applications for the revenue. The results are surprising, especially when it comes to so-called climate money.


Low climate impact, high bureaucratic effort: Germans had a more negative opinion of the so-called climate money – a distribution of the additional income from carbon pricing to households – compared to other options for that revenue. This is one of the results of a representative survey carried out by adelphi, RWTH Aachen University and the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research.

Another insight from the study: experts and some political parties are in favour of climate money – referred to in the study as a “climate dividend” – but largely as a relatively progressive instrument for social balance. The climate money is not intended to have a positive climate effect. Higher consumption can even have a negative effect on the climate. “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 important that the connection between carbon pricing and relief is communicated effectively,” says adelphi energy expert Anton Barckhausen.

Citizens and experts view climate money differently

Raffaele Piria, Senior Advisor and Co-Lead Energy at adelphi, agrees that there is still a need for action in terms of public communication: “It came as a surprise to us to find out that the participants often regarded the climate money as an instrument that was not easy to understand and rather unfair, as many experts had assumed the opposite.” However, the knowledge forms an important foundation for the potential improvement of the carbon pricing system including use of the income. 

The research team found that many respondents interpret the carbon pricing system differently than experts do: citizens often see pricing as a user-related charge and less as an incentive to change behaviour. “This in itself can affect acceptance,” says Piria. The most important finding, in his opinion: “Politicians must make greater efforts to explain the reasons for the carbon pricing and how they work in a comprehensible way.”

The “COreFAKTEN” project

The survey and other research took place as part of the project “Social acceptance of a CO2 price for energy consumption (COreFAKTEN)” over the past two years. An advisory board made up of experts in climate, energy and social policy provided support for the project. COreFAKTEN was funded in the Energy Transition and Society programme of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (2020-2021).

You can download the results of the study here.

Contact: Anton Barckhhausen