Is public awareness and perceived threat of climate change
associated with governmental mitigation targets?
Lauren C. Hall
James D. Sauer
Matthew A. Palmer
Received: 30 October 2017 /Accepted: 27 May 2018 /Published online: 5 June 2018
Abstract Social scientists and science communicators are concerned about the apparent dis-
crepancy between the scientific consensus on climate change (Anderegg et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci
107:12107–12109, 2010; Doran and Zimmerman EOS Trans Am Geophys Union 90:22–3,
2009) and the general public’s views (Knight Environ Sociol 2:101–113, 2016; Lee et al. Nat
Clim Chang 5:1014–1020, 2015). It is reasoned that increased public awareness and perceived
threat of climate change may pressure governments to enact policy to counteract climate change
(e.g. setting stringent carbon emissions targets). Despite a logical link between public awareness
and government-set emissions targets, this relationship remains untested. We examined the
relationship between public awareness about and perceived threat of climate change and gov-
ernmental emissions targets across 71 countries and 1 region. We found a positive association
between the proportions of a country’s population that are aware of climate change and the
unconditional emissions reduction targets set by that country in the Paris Agreement (Rogelj et al.
Nature 534:631–639, 2016). However, the proportion of people in a country who perceive
climate change as a personal threat was not associated with higher emissions reduction targets.
Our results suggest that public awareness may be an important part of garnering the public
support required for policies designed to mitigate climate change to succeed.
Despite consensus amongst climate scientists that climate change is occurring (Anderegg et al.
2010; Doran and Zimmerman 2009), the level of public awareness of the issue is both lower and
Climatic Change (2018) 149:159–171
Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-018-
2230-2) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
* Aaron Drummond
School of Psychology, Massey University, Manawatu, Palmerston North 4424, New Zealand
Psychology, School of Medicine, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia
Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018