Global attitudes to climate change

The BBC have just released the results of a global survey of attitudes to anthropogenic climate change (story here, and the results themselves, including the survey questions, are available as a pdf), and it makes interesting reading. Below the fold, I’ve reproduced the results for three of the five questions put to over 22,000 people in 21 different countries at various stages of development (to save space I’ve only shown the results from 14 countries, and I’ve also marked with an asterisk those where only the urban population was surveyed).

As you may know there has been an increase in the temperature of the earth, sometimes called global warming or climate change. Do you believe that human activity, including industry and transportation, is or is not a significant cause of climate change?


As you may know there is some discussion these days about whether it is necessary to take steps to reduce the impact of human activities that are thought to cause global warming or climate change. Would you say that you believe that:
– It is not necessary to take any steps
– It is necessary to take modest steps over the coming years
– It is necessary to take major steps starting very soon


Which of the following points of view is closer to your own?
– Because countries that are less wealthy produce relatively low emissions per person they should NOT be expected to limit their emissions of climate changing gases along with wealthy countries.
– Because total emissions from less wealthy countries are substantial and growing, these countries SHOULD limit their emissions of climate changing gases along with wealthy countries.


The first two plots indicate that a global majority of people not only accept that humanity’s actions are changing the climate, but also that action is required to stop it. The results from the USA are noteworthy; although almost a quarter of the population deny a human hand in climate change (the second highest negative response of the countries surveyed) 70% accept this, and over 90% believe we need to modify our behaviour to mitigate its effects (which highlights the rather bizarre result that in many countries, a fair number of people want to reduce the climatic impact of activities that they don’t believe are changing the climate). This a stronger consensus than I would have expected, given the amount of anti-scientific noise the American public has been subjected to over this issue, and the concerns that it has become overly politicised. Perhaps colleagues more expert in these issues than I can cast some light on this.
I was also struck by the surprisingly large differences in attitude in India and China, which are both in a similar place economically, and would arguably have the most to lose if emissions caps and other measures were introduced. In this context, it is no surprise that less than 50% of Indians think (or want to admit) that industrial activity has serious environmental consequences, and only a slim majority want to see action. In China, however, levels of concern and willingness for action are above those in many European countries – and according to the third plot I’ve supplied, it seems that 70% are even willing to countenance culling their emissions along with the western world.
Gavin has possibly provided a timely insight into this:

My second thought on China came from travelling through some of the most polluted cites in the world. Aerosol haze that appeared continuous from Beijing to Hong Kong is such an obvious sign of human industrial activity that it simply takes your breath away (literally). In places, even on a clear day, you cannot see the sun – even if there is no cloud in the sky. Only in the mountains or in deeply rural parts of the country was blue sky in evidence. This is clearly an unsustainable situation (even if you are only thinking about the human health impacts) and it points the way, I think, to how China can be engaged on the climate change front.

If this survey is any indication, this engagement is already happening – although I do wonder about the effects of surveying only urban Chinese verses the whole country, as was apparently done in India.
China aside, the general message from the third plot is unsurprising: developing countries are not so keen on the idea of having their greenhouse gas emissions limited by any post-Kyoto global treaty. This highlights a possible weakness in this survey: it suggests a fairly strong general will to ‘do something’ about climate change, but it doesn’t really pin people down on how much they’re willing for that ‘something’ to cost them personally. How do people feel about footing increased energy and petrol bills? Or having their long-distance flights taxed and/or limited? I suspect that as soon as you start asking, “would you do this financially painful thing?”, you’d find that there’s still a bit of convincing to do.

Categories: climate science, public science

Comments (2)

  1. Harold Asmis says:

    Just ask anybody in the US, who wants to put up their hand for a 20% gas tax increase?

  2. MikeB says:

    Hands up all those who want a 2 degrees plus rise in global tempretures….because its possibly one or the other.