Metal–support interactions have a strong impact on the performance of heterogeneous catalysts. Specific sites at the metal–support interface can give rise to unusual high reactivity, and there is a growing interest in optimizing not only the properties of metal particles but also the metal–support interface. Here, we demonstrate how varying the particle size of the support (ceria–zirconia) can be used to tune the metal–support interactions, resulting in a substantially enhanced CO2 hydrogenation rate. A combination of X-ray diffraction, X-ray absorption spectroscopy, near-ambient pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, transmission electron microscopy and infrared spectroscopy provides insight into the active sites at the interface between cobalt and ceria–zirconia involved in CO2 hydrogenation to CH4. Reverse oxygen spillover from the support during treatment in hydrogen results in the generation of oxygen vacancies. Stabilization of cobalt particles by ceria–zirconia particles of intermediate size leads to oxygen spillover to the support during the CO2 and CO dissociation steps, followed by further hydrogenation of the resulting intermediates on cobalt.