Comparing public rationales for justice trade-offs in mitigation and adaptation climate policy dilemmas

Sonja Klinsky, Hadi Dowlatabadi, Timothy Mcdaniels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Despite a great deal of research on public perceptions of climate change science, very little empirical work has attempted to investigate how members of the lay public might evaluate the justice dilemmas inherent within climate policy decision-making. This exploratory study contrasts arguments about justice from a mitigation perspective, with those from an adaptation perspective and draws insights about the contours of politically acceptable climate policy. Using think-aloud protocols and a structured elicitation approach with members of the lay public to generate quantitative and qualitative data, this study suggests that the two types of climate policy trigger different sets of arguments about justice. When asked about mitigation burden-sharing participants overwhelmingly invoke arguments about causality. In contrast, in discussions of adaptation participants emphasized the needs of the afflicted parties and their ability to cope. Furthermore, social and spatial distances were not a factor in allocation of mitigation burdens, but were used to discount the distribution of compensation towards adaptation. These initial data about public perceptions of justice in this area suggest that the public would view adaptation and mitigation as complements not substitutes. These findings also highlight the importance of exploring public reactions to the sub-components of climate policy individually.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)862-876
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Adaptation
  • Climate policy
  • Justice
  • Mitigation
  • Public perceptions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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