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Youth perception of carbon inequality

Stefan Drews, Institute of Environmental Science and Technology, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Spain), University of Málaga (Spain); Théo Konc, Technical University of Berlin (Germany), Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (Germany)
Project selected in the call to support research projects on the social reality of young people (FS22-1B)

The issues of climate change and economic inequality are connected, and both relate to intergenerational fairness. People with higher incomes and wealth tend to have higher carbon footprints. In turn, income and wealth tend to increase with age, while the greatest climate damages will fall on today’s young generation. In this article, the authors use survey data from 1,547 young respondents (aged 16-32) in Spain to explore their perceptions of various links between economic inequality and climate change. Their findings suggest that many young people generally perceive moderate to large differences in carbon footprints in Spain. When comparing their perceptions with academic research data, it appears that young people actually tend to overestimate the magnitude of footprint differences. However, they are well aware that footprint differences are more strongly related to income differences than to age. The results suggest that the majority of young people support that carbon inequality should be considered by policymakers in a low-carbon transition, and that concrete public policies that could reduce carbon inequality, such as taxing dirty assets, should be implemented.
Key points
  • 1
       Many young people think that the differences in carbon footprints in Spain are either moderate (31%), large (33%) or very large (24%). When comparing the perceived values of footprints with data from academic publications, the results indicate that many respondents have inaccurate perceptions: more people overestimate − rather than underestimate − the amount of emissions generated by the top polluters.
  • 2
       Some 78% of respondents believe that people with high incomes have above-average carbon footprints. In contrast, perceived differences in emissions across age groups are fairly balanced, with slightly more respondents believing that older people have larger carbon footprints (32%) than those believing that younger people have larger carbon footprints (26%).
  • 3
       There are significantly more respondents who perceive that it is easier for people with high incomes to reduce their carbon footprints than for people with low incomes (54% vs. 11%). Perceived possibilities of emission reduction are considered to be roughly the same for young and for old people.
  • 4
       A large majority of young people (74%) support that the concept of carbon inequality should play a role in shaping climate mitigation policy.
  • 5
       Introducing a tax on dirty assets is one of the policies that could reduce carbon inequality and is supported by a majority of young people, regardless of their left/right-wing political ideology. However, only 40% of respondents are in favour of introducing a tax on frequent flights.
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