Lessons in framing carbon pricing

Lessons in framing carbon pricing

As world leaders attempt to hammer out a plan to limit global warming, others continue working to build public support for the solutions that would turn this plan into a reality. One of the most important approaches to limiting GHG emissions is carbon pricing – including cap and trade, taxation and other mechanisms that are designed to discourage the release of CO2.

What do we know about how the public views carbon pricing? Our recent webinar, How to make the case for climate solutions: Ontarians’ views on carbon pricing and cap and trade offered some useful ideas. The webinar was based on recent research conducted by the Climate Action Network Canada in partnership with Climate Outreach and Gandalf Group examining which messaging frames elicited the best response to carbon pricing among those living in Ontario, Canada.

While there are important regional distinctions in what resonates with people, the webinar offered valuable insights to groups on either side of the border about how to build support among their respective constituencies – particularly given the rise of regional carbon pricing and cap and trade systems across Canada and the United States.

For those who couldn’t make the webinar, here are some key findings:

How a person feels about climate change is the biggest determinant of whether they support carbon pricing.

  • Framing has a greater influence on the way people receive and respond to a message than information.
  • Carbon pricing messages can trigger resistance related to perceived personal cost. A potentially more effective alternative could be to frame carbon pricing not as a tax but a law aimed at a desired benefit or outcome (such as a more fair distribution of responsibility).
  • Policy language in general, and specifically around market signals, does not resonate with most members of the public.
  • If people are ambiguous or unsure about who’s communicating, they may reject concepts they would otherwise accept out of fear of being manipulated. Trustworthiness of the messenger is key.
  • Incidentally, traditional “conservative” frames (i.e. security) failed to motivate conservatives in this study.
  • Communicating about carbon pricing has a high potential to polarize people; however, there are a handful of narratives appeal to people across the political spectrum. These include:

    • Fairness: Polluters should be held responsible for their actions. We all have a role to play in doing the right thing.
    • Common sense: Carbon pricing is sensible because it’s a flexible and responsive solution that unleashes the creativity of businesses and industries.
    • We all pitch in: Everyone should do what they can to help solve this problem. Carbon pricing is the mechanism by which we fairly distribute responsibility.


Listen to the webinar recording for the fully story on which frames resonate (and alienate) audiences around carbon framing, and how to incorporate them into your campaign.