Slowing climate change will almost certainly require a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but agreement on who
should reduce emissions by how much is difficult, in part because of the self-serving bias—the tendency to believe that what is beneficial to oneself is also fair. Conducting surveys among college students in the United States and China, we show that each of these groups displays a nationalistic self-serving bias in judgments of a fair distribution of economic burdens resulting from mitigation. Yet, we also show, by disguising the problem and the identity of the parties, that it is possible to elicit perceptions of fairness that are not influenced by national interests. Our research reveals that the self-serving bias plays a major role in the difficulty of obtaining agreement on how to implement emissions reductions.
That is, the disagreement over what constitutes fair climate policy does not appear to be due to cross-national differences in what constitutes a fair distribution of burdens. Interventions to mitigate the self-serving bias may facilitate agreement.