Poll Finds Global Consensus on a Need to Tackle Climate Change

Source: By SEWELL CHAN, New York Times • Posted: Friday, November 6, 2015

The Passu Glacier in the Gojal Valley in Pakistan. The majority of respondents to a Pew Research Center poll in Pakistan did not support placing limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Credit Aamir Qureshi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images 

As world leaders prepare to gather in Paris next month to address global warming, their populations generally agree on the need to curb greenhouse gas emissions, but the countries that emit the most carbon dioxide per person are also the ones least worried about climate change, according to a poll released Thursday by the Pew Research Center.

The survey, which sampled people in 40 countries, found that in every nation surveyed, except Pakistan, a majority of respondents supported placing limits on the emissions of gases that are warming the planet. In the United States, 69 percent did; in China, 71 percent; in Nigeria, 77 percent; in Brazil, 88 percent.

Michael E. Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University who was not involved in the survey, said the findings were more encouraging than he had expected.

“Whether it is the unprecedented drought in California, devastating floods and hurricanes, extraordinary wildfires, people are now seeing the impact of climate change with their own eyes — they are experiencing its negative consequences now, where they live,” Dr. Mann said. “It is no longer a distant, far-off problem. It is very real, and as a result, a growing majority of the population is demanding action.”

But the intensity of concern about rising temperatures varies significantly across the world, the poll found, hinting at some of the domestic constraints leaders could face in negotiating deals in Paris that may impose short-term costs on their economies. Respondents in the United States, Australia and Russia, among the top carbon polluters per capita, were substantially less alarmed about the problem than their counterparts in India, Kenya and Mexico, which have less industrialized economies.

There were also striking differences in opinion trends. In the United States and France, the proportion of people who say global climate change is a “very serious problem” increased over the past five years, according to the poll. In the United States, 45 percent said the problem was very serious, compared with 37 percent in 2010, while in France the proportion rose to 56 percent from 46 percent over the same period.

By contrast, the proportion of respondents who see the problem as very serious declined over the past five years in China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Indonesia, Turkey and Argentina, the survey found. In China, the proportion saying the problem was very serious fell to 18 percent from 41 percent. In Japan, it declined to 45 percent from 58 percent.

Fears about climate change were strongest in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. In Australia, Britain, China, Germany, Israel and Poland, fewer than 20 percent of respondents said they were very concerned that climate change would personally harm them during their lifetimes; in Brazil, Burkina Faso, Ghana, the Philippines and Uganda, more than 70 percent did.

Despite significant differences in views within and across countries, the poll also found broadly similar patterns. People around the world were far more likely to say that significant lifestyle changes will be necessary to mitigate the effects of climate change than to say that technology alone can solve the problem; even in the technology-oriented United States, the respective figures were 66 percent and 23 percent.

The poll also found general agreement that rich countries should do more than poor countries to shoulder the burden of dealing with the problem, because the former have produced most of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions so far, even though the latter will produce more planet-warming emissions in the years to come.

Drought was the most common concern cited by respondents when asked about the consequences of climate change, followed closely by severe weather. In the United States, anxiety about drought was most prevalent in the West and the Midwest, which have both experienced water shortages in recent years.

The poll found stark partisan divisions in the United States: 68 percent of Democrats considered global climate change to be a very serious problem, compared with 20 percent of Republicans; 82 percent of Democrats support curbs on greenhouse gas emissions, compared with 50 percent of Republicans; 79 percent of Democrats saw a need for lifestyle changes, among Republicans, 55 percent. Substantial partisan divisions on the issue were also identified in Britain, Canada and Australia.

American women (51 percent) were substantially more likely than American men (39 percent) to say that climate change is a very serious problem; that it will affect them personally (36 percent versus 23 percent) and that major lifestyle changes will be required (75 percent versus 57 percent).

Similarly, Americans ages 18 to 29 were far more likely to view global warming as a serious problem — and to think that rich nations should do more to address it — than Americans 50 and older. Less affluent Americans were more worried about it than more prosperous ones. Half of American Catholics, but only one-third of American Protestants, said that climate change was a very serious problem.

The poll asked citizens of five large developing countries whether their governments should develop alternative energy sources, like wind and solar power; expand exploration and production of oil, coal and natural gas; or build more nuclear power plants. Majorities in Brazil (73 percent) and China (51 percent) expressed support for alternative energy sources; in India, 44 percent did. People in Russia and South Africa were more likely to say that all three approaches should be given equal priority.

Although fewer than one in five Chinese expressed serious concern about global warming, more than seven in 10 supported an international treaty to curtail emissions — a striking gap that may reflect both the prominence of recent official pronouncements about emissions controls, as well as the fact that other environmental concerns, like air pollution, tend to dominate public debate in China.

The survey was conducted from March 25 to May 27 among 45,435 respondents in 40 countries. The survey included telephone and face-to-face interviews conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International.