The Effect of Public Opinion on International Environmental Agreements in the U.S. and China

Friday, June 1, 2018


Lydia Murray


Since the 1980's international climate negotiations have occurred more frequently and with increasing importance. Research on international climate agreements has largely been limited to their effectiveness, with very few considering the formation of such agreements, and in particular the impact that public opinion has on agreement formation.. This paper seeks to begin to fill that research gap by analyzing how public opinion, official statements, and the final outcomes of the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris agreement are correlated in the United States and China. This is done by looking at polling data and other proxies for public opinion in both countries prior to the negotiations of each agreement and the official statements and documents of each country, which are then compared to the commitments made by each country in the final agreements. The paper finds that in both countries, public opinion appears to follow the stances made by the ruling government party, rather than the other way around. In China, this takes the form of increased support for climate change action while in the U.S. this is seen through a growing partisan divide.