Climate change policy is a challenging field for many governments committed to the national goals stipulated under the 2015 Paris Agreement. Policies that can be effective often prove too unpopular among the public to put in practice. Does the choice of policy instrument—i.e. taxes versus subsidies—relate to this problem, and if so, how? We tackle these questions with data from a cross-national survey in 23 countries. The results point to a widespread aversion to carbon taxes, especially so relative to subsidies promoting renewable energies. This aversion decreases with individual political trust and efficacy—factors that help ease the policy uncertainty surrounding carbon taxes. Yet it worsens with the perceived individual costs of taxes, especially among consumers who depend highly on energy or live in rural areas. Our estimations suggest that the effect of changes in these factors alone would be large enough to reverse public resistance to carbon taxes in some countries.