Converting carbon dioxide (CO2) into valuable products is one of the most important processes for a sustainable society. Especially, the electrochemical CO2 reduction reaction (CO2RR) offers an effective means, but its reaction mechanism is not yet fully understood. Here, we demonstrate that cation-coupled electron transfer (CCET) is a rate-determining step in the CO2RR to carbon monoxide. The first-principles-based multiscale simulation identifies a single cation that coordinates a CO2− intermediate adsorbed on Ag electrode. The CCET is experimentally verified by a collapse of the CO2RR polarization curves upon correcting Nernstianly for a bulk cation concentration. As further confirmation, a kinetic study shows that the CO2RR obeys first-order kinetics on a local cation concentration. Finally, this work unveils that the cation effect on CO2RR originates from the local colligative property, and further highlights the importance of ion-pairing tendency for electrochemical interface design to achieve high-performance CO2 electrolysis.