The 2023 FREE Network Retreat, an annual face-to-face event for members of the FREE Network, gathered its representatives to share and exchange research ideas and to discuss its institutes’ respective work and joint efforts within the Network. An academic session highlighted multiple overarching areas of interest and opportunities for research collaboration and included a plenary session on topics ranging from theoretical underpinning of Vladimir Putin’s regime to climate change beliefs and to consumer behaviour in credit markets. A session addressing the respective institute’s work during the last year also demonstrated the importance and relevance of the FREE Network’s joint initiatives on gender, democracy and media, and climate change and environment: FROGEE, FROMDEE and FREECE. This brief gives a short outline of the plenary session and an overview of some further topics covered during the conference.
The Academic Day
The Academic Day consisted partly of a plenary session and partly of an academic session. The academic session was outlined to demonstrate the wide spectrum of research interests within the network and to promote and highlight the opportunities for research collaboration. Designed as a series of poster sessions, each organized around a common research theme, it allowed for an exchange of ideas between presenting researchers and the audience while displaying the overlap of the various research interests across the institutes. At the same time, the poster session combined the broad range of topics within 10 overarching subjects (trade, gender, migration and education, public economics, energy, labor, political economy and development, macro, conflict, and theory and auctions).
The plenary session further illustrated the wide variety of topics the FREE Network researchers’ work on. During the plenary session, three distinguished presentations were held, summarized in what follows.
“Why Did Putin Invade Ukraine? – A Theory of Degenerate Autocracy”
Firstly, Konstantin Sonin, Professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, gave a presentation of his working paper (with Georgy Egorov, Northwestern University) in which the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine is explained through a theoretical framework on dictators’ decision-making in degenerate autocracies.
Sonin outlined how the beliefs about Ukraine in Kremlin, prior to the invasion, were factually wrong. For example, Kremlin believed that Ukraine, despite plenty of facts pointing in the opposite direction, lacked a stable government and had an incapable army. Further, it was believed that the US and Europe wouldn’t care about Ukraine and that Russian troops would be welcomed as liberators – the latter exemplified by the fact that Russia sent police and not the army during the first phase of the invasion. He also stressed that the decision to invade Ukraine is likely to have disastrous consequences for Vladimir Putin, his regime, and for Russia as a whole. This is, however, not the first example of a disastrous decision made by a leader of an autocratic regime, leading up to the question: What explains such choices that should not rationally have been made? And how can leaders make them in highly institutionalized environments where they are surrounded by councils and advisors who are supposed to possess the best expertise?
The model presented by Sonin assumes a leader in such highly institutionalized environment that wishes to stay in power and whose decisions are based on input from subordinates. The subordinates differ in level of their expertise and the leader thus chooses the quality of advice that he receives through his choice of subordinates. In turn, while giving advice to the leader, the subordinate considers two factors: the vulnerability of the leader and their own prospects should the leader fall. In equilibrium there is a tradeoff as competent subordinates are also less loyal (since a more competent person might know when to switch alliances and have better prospects if the regime changes).
The leader also has access to repression as an instrument. Repression decreases his changes to be overthrown but raises the stakes for a potential future power struggle, as a leader with a history of repression is more likely to be repressed by his successor.
This interaction creates a feedback loop. If a dictator chooses repression, he feels more endangered, and he then chooses a more loyal subordinate who is less likely to deceive him for personal gain under a potential new regime. However, this leads to the appointment of less competent subordinates whereafter the information that flows to the leader becomes less and less reliable – as illustrated by Kremlin’s beliefs about Ukraine prior to the war.
There are three types of paths in equilibrium, Sonin explained; 1. “stable autocracy”, with leaders altering in power and choosing peaceful paths without repressions 2. “degenerate autocracy” – where the incumbent and opponent first replace each other peacefully and then slide into the repression-based change of power (until one of them dies and the story repeats), and 3. “consecutive degenerate autocracy” – where each power struggle is followed by repression.
Concluding his presentation, Sonin highlighted that in a degenerate autocracy such as Russia, individual decisions by the leader are rarely crucial due to the high level of institutionalization. However, as shown by the model, the leader is inevitably faced with a situation where he is surrounded by incompetent loyalists feeding him bad intel and setting him up to make disastrous decisions – most recently displayed in Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.
“Facing the Hard Truth: Evidence from Climate Change Ignorance”
Pamela Campa, Associate Professor at Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, gave the conference’s second presentation, which detailed her work (with Ferenc Szucz, Stockholm University) on climate change skepticism.
Campa opened her talk with the current paradox regarding climate change, where, in the scientific community there is a strong consensus about the existence of climate change, but in society at large, skepticism is largely prevalent. This can be exemplified by one quarter of the US population not believing in global warming in 2023, and Europeans not believing in the fact that humans are the main driver of climate change.
According to Campa, the key question to answer is therefore “Why does ignorance about climate change persist among the public – in spite of the overwhelming evidence?”. One possible explanation may be a deficit in comprehension; people simply don’t understand the complexity of climate change and thus follow biased media and/ or politicians more or less sponsored by lobbyists. However, research have shown scientifical literacy to be quite uncorrelated with climate change denial, contradicting the above explanation. The second hypothesis, and of focus in the study, instead revolve around the concept of information avoidance. To test the hypothesis that people actively avoid climate change information, the authors key in on coal mining communities in the US having been exposed to negative shocks in the form of layoffs. These communities are of interest given their strong sense of identity and the fact that they are directly affected by the green transition. Arguably, a layoff shock would negatively affect not only their economy, but also pose a threat to their perceived identity. Given the context, it can thus be assumed that these communities to a larger extent would avoid information on climate change and information post-shock to restore the threatened identity.
The authors consider US counties experiencing mass layoff (more than 30 percent of mining jobs lost between 2014 and 2017) as treated counties, finding that in these counties, learning about climate change is 30 to 40 percent lower than in counties having experienced no mass layoffs. To account for the fact that the layoff itself may cause changes in learning, the authors also consider an instrument variable analysis in which gas prices are exploited as instrument for the layoffs – once again displaying the fact that people in affected communities believe climate change to be caused by humans to a lesser extent, when compared to counties in which no mass layoffs had occurred.
Interestingly, when controlling with other industries with somewhat similar characteristics (such as metal mining), the drop in climate change learning disappears, feeding in the notion of “identity-based information avoidance”.
The lack of support for and consensus among the public of the ongoing climate change and its drivers might pose a threat for the green transition as well as reduce personal effort to reduce the carbon footprint, Campa concluded.
“Consumer Credit with Over-Optimistic Borrowers”
In the plenary session’s last presentation, Igor Livshits, Economic Advisor and Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, presented his working paper (with Florian Exler, University of Vienna, James MacGee, Bank of Canada and Michèle Tertilt, Mannheimer University) on consumer credit and borrower’s behaviour.
There has been much debate on whether and how to regulate consumer credit products to limit misuse of credit. In 2009/2010 several initiatives and regulations (such as the 2009 Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act) were introduced with the aim of protecting consumers and borrowers from arguments that sellers of credit products exploit lack of information and cognitive capacity of borrowers. There is however a lack of evaluation of such arguments and subsequent regulations, which Livshits explained to be the motivation behind the paper.
The paper differentiates between over-optimistic borrowers (behaviour borrowers) and rational borrowers (rationalists). While both types face the same risks, behaviour borrowers are more prone to shocks and are at the same time unaware of these worse risks (i.e., they believe they are rationalists). Focusing on these types of borrowers, the paper introduces a model in which the lenders endogenously price credit based on beliefs about the borrower type. Households decide whether to spend or save and if to file for bankruptcy in an environment in which they are faced with earning shocks and expense shocks.
In this structural model of unsecured lending and default, Livshits finds that behavioral borrowers’ “risky” behaviour negatively affects rationalists since both types are pooled together and, thus rationalists are overpaying to cover for the behaviour borrowers. A calibration of the model also suggests that behavioral borrowers borrow too much and file for bankruptcy too little and too late.
Livshits argued that the model does not provide evidence of the notion that borrowers need protection from lenders, but rather that borrowers need to be protected from themselves. In fact, had behaviour borrowers been made aware of the fact that they are overly optimistic about the actual state of their future incomes, they would borrow 15 percent less.
To address the increased risks behaviour borrowers take at the cost of rationalists, policies such as default made easier, taxation on borrowing, financial literacy efforts and score-dependent borrowing limits could all be considered. Such policies may lower debt and reduce bankruptcy filings but as they may also reduce welfare and exhibit scaling difficulties.
Updates from the Institutes
During the Retreat, the respective institutes shared the previous year’s work, and updates within the FREE Network’s three joint projects were also presented. These go under the acronyms of FROMDEE (Forum for Research on Media and Democracy in Eastern Europe), FREECE (Forum for Research on Eastern Europe; Climate and the Environment) and FROGEE (Forum for Research on Gender Economics in Eastern Europe), and address areas of great relevance in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. Researchers from all FREE Network institutes work on these topics, with the most recent policy paper written in coordination by SITE, KSE and CenEA (with expert Maja Bosnic, Niras International Consulting). The policy paper focuses on the gender dimension of the reconstruction of Ukraine – putting emphasis on the necessity of gender budgeting principles throughout the various parts of reconstruction. An upcoming joint research paper will consider the effects of gasoline price increase on household income across the Network’s countries, written under the FREECE umbrella.
The three themes of gender, media and democracy, and environment and climate are not only purely research topics within the institutes. They also reflect developments and challenges that the institutes to a various extent face in the respective contexts in which they operate. The work focusing on the reconstruction of Ukraine is an excellent example of an area that encompasses all three.
Another example of the relevance of the three themes features prominently in one of the institutes’ most tangible contribution to their respective societies: their education programs. Nataliia Shapoval, Vice President for Policy Research at Kyiv School of Economics (KSE), emphasized how KSE has – amid Russia’s war on Ukraine – managed to greatly expand. Over the past year, KSE has launched 8 new bachelor’s and master’s programs, some of which are directly targeted at ensuring postwar reconstruction competence. On a similar note, Lev Lvovskiy, Academic Director at the Belarusian Research and Outreach Center (BEROC) mentioned the likelihood of next year being able to offer students a bachelor’s program in economics and several business courses in Vilnius – BEROC’S new location. BEROC’s effort in providing quality education in economics to Belarus’ exile youth is considered a fundamental investment in the future of the country – providing a competent leading class capable of installing democracy and fair elections in Belarus once the current regime is gone. The emphasis on education was further highlighted by Salome Gelashvili, Practice Head, Agriculture & rural policy at the International School of Economics Policy Institute (ISET-PI) who not only mentioned the opening of a master’s program in Finance at ISET but also the fact that an increasing number of students who’ve recently graduated from PhD’s abroad are now returning to Georgia. Such investments into education are necessary to counter Russian propaganda in the region all three agreed, emphasizing the need to continually stem Russia’s negative influence in the region. This investment into education is also important to hinder countries from sliding away from democratic values – realized in Belarus and threatening in Georgia.
To further delve into the issues of democratic backsliding, a tendency that has been recently observed not only in the region but also more widely across the globe, FROMDEE will organize an academic conference in Stockholm on October 13th, 2023.
The 2023 FREE Network Retreat provided a great opportunity for the Networks’ participants to jointly take part of new research and to share experiences, opportunities, and knowledge amongst each other. The Retreat also served as reminder of the importance of continuously supporting economic and democratic development, through research, policy work, and networking, in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.
List of Presenters
- Konstantin Sonin, University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy
- Pamela Campa, Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics
- Igor Livshits, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia
Voluntary social distancing plays a vital role in containing the spread of the disease during a pandemic. As a public good, it should be more commonplace in more homogeneous and altruistic societies. For healthy people, social distancing offers private benefits, too. If sick people are more likely to stay home, healthy ones have fewer incentives to do so, especially if asymptomatic transmission is perceived to be unlikely. This interplay may lead to a stricter observance of social distancing guidelines in more diverse, less altruistic societies. Consistent with this prediction, we find that mobility reduction following the first local case of COVID-19 was stronger in Russian cities with higher ethnic fractionalization and cities with higher levels of xenophobia and we confirm that mobility reduction in the United States was also higher in counties with higher ethnic fractionalization. Our findings highlight the importance of creating strategic incentives for different population groups in crafting effective public policy.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, governments in almost all affected countries have imposed restrictions aimed at promoting social distancing. However, enforcing these restrictions is logistically and politically costly. The effectiveness of these measures depends heavily on people voluntarily observing social distancing guidelines. The conventional wisdom is that informal social norms are more difficult to sustain in ethnically diverse societies (Alesina and La Ferrara, 2000; Algan et al., 2016). In Egorov et al. (2021), we challenge this notion by showing that during the COVID-19 pandemic ethnic diversity has increased prosocial behavior in Russia and the United States.
At least at the beginning of the pandemic, most people considered themselves healthy. For them, the decision to stay home has been driven more by the fear of getting infected than by the desire to avoid infecting others. The likelihood of getting infected is higher if sick people cannot be expected to self-isolate, which, in turn, depends on their prosocial considerations. If people are subject to out-group biases and care less about people from other groups, then the sick are less likely to engage in social distancing in more diverse places. This makes people who consider themselves healthy more likely to self-isolate. Since healthy people constitute a majority, at least in the early stages of a pandemic, we expect to see more social distancing in more diverse societies. Generally, in these circumstances, the private benefits of those who consider themselves healthy align with social objectives.
In Egorov et al. (2021) we formalize this argument and provide causal evidence of the differential decline in social distancing based on ethnic diversity in Russia and the United States.
Our theory predicts that people engage in social distancing more in places with higher ethnic fractionalization when the probability of getting infected becomes nontrivial. To test this prediction empirically, we use two approaches. First, we report difference-in-differences estimates, where we compare cities with higher and lower levels of ethnic fractionalization before and after the first reported case of COVID-19 infection in their region. Second, we combine the difference-in-differences approach with a two-stage least-squares approach, in which the timing of the first reported case is instrumented using measures of preexisting migration.
One potential concern with the first approach is that the timing of the first case is not fully random. For example, regions could report late COVID-19 cases because their medical capacity precluded them from correctly identifying the virus in time, or because their testing policies could be ineffective, or because their administration was prone to conceal the first cases for a longer time. To deal with these potential confounds in the first approach we use predicted timing of the first case. Specifically, we use the fact that travel connections between various cities and Moscow (where the first major outbreak occurred) could affect the timing of the first case in those cities’ respective regions. We rely on internal migration as a proxy for these types of connections (Mikhailova and Valsecchi, 2020; Valsecchi and Durante, forthcoming) and use a shift-share instrument for internal cross-regional migration to deal with the endogeneity of migration.
Data and Results
To measure social distancing, we use data on people’s movements provided by Russia’s largest technology company, Yandex, which tracks individuals’ cell phones with its mobile apps. In particular, we use daily averages of the Yandex Isolation Index, which aggregates data on people’s movements at the city level and is analogous to the Google Mobility Index. The index is calibrated for each city to be 0 for the busiest hour of the working day, and 5 for the quietest hour of the night before the coronavirus outbreak. We use daily data for 302 cities with a population over 50,000 from February 23, 2020, through April 21, 2020.
Information on the first reported case of COVID-19 in each region is taken from the government-agency website that contains official information about the pandemic. Data on ethnic fractionalization is based on the 2010 Census. Information on interregional migration and control variables comes from the Russian Federal State Statistics Service.
Figure 1. Isolation Over Time for Places with High and Low Ethnic Fractionalization
Figure 1 shows no visible difference in the behavior of people in cities with low and high levels of ethnic fractionalization before the first coronavirus case. In both groups of cities, people have engaged in more social distancing since the discovery of the first case. However, after one week, people in more fractionalized cities have been more likely to stay home than people in less fractionalized cities. The effect does not manifest itself immediately after the discovery of the first case, which likely reflects the fact that a certain time is needed to disseminate information about the discovery of the coronavirus in the region. Moreover, the growth in self-isolation in more fractionalized cities is somewhat lower in the first days after the discovery of the first case, which may be driven by people catching up on unfinished tasks that require mobility, such as last-minute purchases, in anticipation of more stringent self-isolation in the future.
The results of the difference-in-differences and IV estimation confirm the results of the visual analysis. The magnitudes of the IV estimation imply that a one-standard-deviation increase in ethnic fractionalization leads to 3.7% higher social distancing following the report of the first local COVID-19 case. In other words, a one-standard-deviation increase in ethnic fractionalization can explain 5.7% of the average mobility reduction after the report of the first case or, alternatively, 4.7% of the weekday-weekend gap for an average locality.
To make sure that the results are not Russia- specific, we also show that ethnic fractionalization led to a bigger reduction in mobility following the first local COVID-19 case using the United States county-level data.
Overall, the results in Egorov et al. (2021) highlight the role of ethnic diversity in voluntary adherence to socially beneficial norms, such as self-isolation and social distancing during a pandemic. We show that people in more diverse places were more likely to restrict their mobility following the reports of the first local COVID-19 cases.
Our study has important implications for government policy. It highlights not only that the propensity of different groups of people to engage in prosocial behavior may differ but also that there may be important strategic effects. In the context of the pandemic, decisions by healthy and sick individuals to self-isolate are strategic substitutes. This means, for example, that in a homogeneous society with high levels of tolerance, extensive testing would allow people to learn that they are sick and self-isolate, enabling the rest to go out with little fear. In a heterogeneous society with low levels of tolerance, the same policy may spur people who learn that they are contagious to go out more because they have little to lose, with the exact opposite implications for the healthy population.
- Alesina, A., La Ferrara, E., 2000. Participation in heterogeneous communities. Quarterly Journal of Economics. 115, 847–904.
- Algan, Y., Hémet, C., Laitin, D.D., 2016. The social effects of ethnic diversity at the local level: a natural experiment with exogenous residential allocation. Journal of Political Economics. 124, 696–733.
- Egorov, G., Enikolopov, R., A., Makarin, and M. Petrova. 2021. Divided We Stay Home: Social Distancing and Ethnic Diversity” Journal of Public Economics. 194: 104328.
- Mikhailova, T., Valsecchi, M., 2020. Internal migration and Covid-19 (in Russian). In: Economic Policy in Times of Covid-19, New Economic School, pp. 26–33.
- Valsecchi, M., Durante, R., forthcoming. Internal Migration Networks And Mortality In Home Communities: Evidence From Italy During The Covid-19 Pandemic. European Economic Review.
Changes in individual behavior are an essential component of the planet’s effort to reduce carbon emissions. But such changes would not be possible without individuals acknowledging the threat of anthropogenic climate change. This brief discusses the climate change risk perceptions across Europe. We show that people in Eastern Europe are, on average, less concerned about climate change than those in Western Europe. Using detailed survey data, we find evidence that the personal experience of extreme weather events is a key driver of green concern, and even more so in the non-EU Eastern part of Europe. We argue that this association might be explained by the relatively low quality and informativeness of public messages concerning global warming in this part of Europe. If information is scarce or perceived as biased, personal experience will resonate more.
Climate change is one of the main threats to humanity. Tackling it entails a combined effort from all parts of society, from regulatory changes and industries adopting new greener business models to consumers adjusting their behavior. While an individual’s contribution to climate change may appear insignificant, research shows that the aggregate effect of mobilizing already known changes in consumer behavior may allow the European Union (EU) to reduce its carbon footprint by about 25% (Moran et al., 2020).
However, the first step for people to adjust their consumption patterns is to acknowledge the threat of anthropogenic climate change. Public ignorance about climate change’s impacts remains high across the world. Furthermore, citizens of more polluting countries are often relatively less concerned about climate change. This lack of awareness is not well-understood, in part due to the multi-dimensional local factors affecting it (Farrell et al., 2019).
This brief discusses the potential drivers of climate risk perceptions, focusing on the differences between Western Europe, Eastern European states that are part of the EU, and non-EU Eastern European countries. We first present the climate change concerns across these regions. We then discuss to which extent the country’s pollution exposure measures and individuals’ socio-economic characteristics can explain these differences. We show that the personal experience of extreme weather events is a key driver of green concern, and even more so in the non-EU part of Eastern Europe. We relate this result to the relatively low salience and informativeness of public messages concerning climate in this part of Europe and discuss potential policy implications.
Green Concerns and Pollution Exposure Across Europe
Figure 1 compares, across Europe, the share of poll respondents who see climate change as a major threat, based on the data from the Lloyd’s Register Foundation World Risk Poll 2020. While there is a significant variation in climate risk perception within each region, respondents in Eastern Europe are, on average, less concerned about climate change than those in Western Europe. We observe a similar pattern between the EU and non-EU parts of Eastern Europe.
Exposure to pollution does not seem to clearly explain these differences. Moreover, the patterns of correlation between climate concern and pollution differ across regions and measures of pollution exposure. The left panel of Figure 2 presents averages across the regions for two pollution measures: carbon emissions (which is, perhaps, reflecting climate threat in general) and air quality (which is more directly associated with health risks). We can see that CO2 emissions are the highest in the non-EU part of Eastern Europe, the least environmentally concerned region. Still, the EU part of Eastern Europe has the lowest average emissions per capita across the three regions (this ranking likely results from the interaction between reliance on fossil fuels, industrial structure, and level of development across the three regions). At the same time, when it comes to the average air quality (measured as the percentage of population exposed to at least 10 micrograms of PM2.5/m3), the non-EU EasternEuropean region is doing better than its EU counterpart, which is more climate concerned. Here, better average air quality in the non-EU Eastern European region is due to its relatively low population density, and consequently, low PM2.5 exposure in large parts of Russia. (See, more on the air quality gap within the EU in Lehne, 2021).
Figure 1: Climate concerns in Eastern and Western Europe
The right panel of Figure 2 shows correlations between (country-level) climate concerns and pollution. For CO2, the correlation is negative in all three regions, suggesting that, within each region, more emitting countries are less concerned. This negative correlation, however, is the strongest in the EU-part of Eastern Europe and almost absent in the non-EU part. The differences between the regions are even more striking for the correlation between climate concerns and air quality: both in Western Europe and in the EU part of Eastern Europe, citizens of countries with worse air quality are more concerned about climate change. However, in non-EU Eastern Europe, the relation is the exact opposite: lower concerns about climate change go hand-in-hand with worse quality of air.
Figure 2: Emissions vs. Climate concerns in Eastern and Western Europe, 2018
Green Concerns and Socio-economic Characteristics
Lower climate concerns in EU-part of the Eastern bloc have been documented before; they are often explained by the Eastern-European economies’ high reliance on coal and other fossil fuels, low-income levels, and other immediate problems that lower the priority of climate issues (e.g., Lorenzoni and Pidgeon 2006, Poortinga et al., 2018, or Marquart-Pyatt et al., 2019). Additionally, the literature suggests that climate beliefs are linked to individuals’ socio-economic characteristics, such as level of education, income, or gender (see, e.g., Poortinga, 2019), which may be different across the regions.
However, the regional differences in climate beliefs also persist when we use individual-level data and control for respondents’ individual characteristics, as well as for country-level variables, such as GDP per capita, oil, gas, and coal dependence of the economies, and exposure to emissions (at the country level, as our individual data does not have this information). This is illustrated in Column 1 of Table 1.
Table 1: Climate change beliefs determinants, individual-level cross-section data.
In what follows, we explore another key driver, the personal experience of extreme weather events. While there is a sizable literature on the effect of experience on climate beliefs, that factor was never, to our knowledge, considered to understand the difference in climate risk perception between the EU- and non-EU parts of Eastern Europe.
Green Concern and Salience of Environmental Issues
In line with the recent climate risk perceptions literature (e.g., Van der Linden, 2015), we show that personal experience increases the likelihood of considering climate change as a major threat across all three regions (see column 2 in Table 1). The association is stronger in the EU part of Eastern Europe and even more so in the non-EU part (even if the difference between the last two is not statistically significant). This finding is confirmed when we control for (observable and unobservable) country-specific effects, such as social norms, via the inclusion of country-level fixed effects. In this case, extreme weather events make respondents more climate-conscious within each country (Column 3 of Table 1). In this specification, the effect differs statistically between the two groups of Eastern-European countries, even if only at a 10% significance level. To put it differently, the impact of personal experience with extreme weather events seems to close a sizable part of the gap in climate risk perceptions across the regions and more so in the non-EU part of Eastern Europe.
Our preferred explanation for this finding is that personal experience resonates with the quality and informativeness of public messages concerning global warming. If information is scarce or perceived as biased, personal experience will resonate more. The low political salience of environmental issues in Eastern Europe, inherited from its Soviet past (McCright, 2015), and lower media quality in Eastern Europe (see e.g., Zuang, 2021) are likely to affect the quality of public discourse concerning the risks of climate change, and, consequently, the information available to individuals.
The climate-related legislative effort across Eastern Europe reflects the low political importance of climate change in the region. According to the data from Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, non-EU transition countries, on average, have adopted 8 climate-related laws and policies, while the corresponding figure is 11.5 for EU transition countries and 18 for the countries in Western Europe. Further, Figure 3 shows a positive correlation between climate change concerns and the number of climate-related laws for Western Europe and the EU-part of Eastern Europe but a negative one for the non-EU part of Eastern Europe and Caucasus countries. One possible interpretation of these differences is that climate change is relatively low on the political agenda of (populist) regimes in the non-EU part of Eastern Europe, as climate-related legislative activity (proxied by, admittedly rough, a measure of the number of laws) does not reflect the intensity of population climate preferences.
Figure 3: Climate concern vs. Climate legislation
Regarding the influence of media quality, column (4) of Table 1 shows that the effect of personal experience on climate change concern is negatively correlated with media freedom. One interpretation could be that individuals in countries with freer media infer less from their extreme weather experience because more accurate media coverage about climate risks improves the population’s knowledge on the issue.
Of course, the causality of the climate belief-experience relationship could also go in the other direction – people who are more concerned about climate change could be more likely to interpret their personal experience as weather-related extreme events. It is impossible to distinguish with the data at hand. However, Myers et al. (2013) show that both channels are present in the US, and the former channel dominates for the people less engaged in the climate issue. Stretching this finding to the Eastern Europe case, we argue that more precise information on the importance of climate change may partially have the same effect as experience – i.e., it will increase people’s awareness and concern about the consequences of global warming.
This brief addresses the differences in climate change beliefs between Eastern and Western Europe, as well as within Eastern Europe. It discusses the determinants of these differences and stresses the importance of personal experience, especially in the non-EU part of Eastern Europe. It relates this finding to the relatively low accuracy of information and quality of public discourse about climate change in the region.
We know already that tackling climate change requires reliable and accurate sources of information. This is especially crucial given what we outline in this brief. This issue resonates with the current social science analysis of the diffusion of climate change denial (see e.g., Farell et al., 2019, on the significant organized effort in spreading misinformation about climate change). Such contrarian information that relays uncertainty and doubt regarding the severity of the global climate change threat could have a severe impact, especially in situations with low political salience of climate change, like in non-EU Eastern Europe. A significant effort of both governments and civil society is needed to provide adequate information and mobilize the population in our common fight against climate change.
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- Lehne, J. (2021), Pollution and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Air Quality in Eastern Europe, FREE Policy brief.
- Lorenzoni, I., Pidgeon, N.F., (2006). Public Views on Climate Change: European and USA Perspectives. Climatic Change 77.
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- (2020) Quantifying the potential for consumer-oriented policy to reduce European and foreign carbon emissions, Climate Policy, 20:sup1, S28-S38
- Myers, T., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., Akerlof, K. and Leiserowitz, A. (2013). The Relationship Between Personal Experience and Belief in the Reality of Global Warming. Nature Climate Change. 3. 343-347.
- Poortinga, W., S. Fisher, G. Böhm, L. Steg, L. Whitmarsh and C. Ogunbode, (2018) European Attitudes to Climate Change and Energy: Topline Results from Round 8 of the European Social Survey.
- Poortinga, W., L. Whitmarsh, L. Steg, G. Böhm, S. Fisher, (2019) Climate change perceptions and their individual-level determinants: A cross-European analysis, Global Environmental Change, Volume 55, 2019, Pages 25-35,
- Van der Linden, S. (2015). The social-psychological determinants of climate change risk perceptions: Towards a comprehensive model. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 41, 112-124.
- Zhuang M. (2021), Media Freedom in Eastern Europe, FREE Policy brief https://freepolicybriefs.org/2021/02/22/media-freedom-eastern-europe/