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COP21: Global Concern about Climate Change, Broad Support for Limiting Emissions



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As world leaders prepare to negotiate an agreement that will frame a global climate change agenda for the next decade and beyond, a new Pew Research Center survey finds there is an international consensus that climate change poses a serious challenge.

Majorities in all 40 nations polled say climate change is a serious problem and a global median of 54% consider it a very serious problem.  A median of 78% support the idea of their country limiting greenhouse gas emissions as part of an international agreement to be discussed at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, or COP21.

Yet there are significant regional differences on the perceived problems posed by global warming. Worries are especially strong in Latin America and Africa. And Americans and Chinese, whose economies are responsible for the greatest annual CO2 emissions, are among the least concerned. In the U.S., 45% of people surveyed say global climate change is a very serious problem and 18% of people surveyed in China say the same.

“The global consensus is that climate change is a serious challenge, not a distant threat,” said Richard Wike, Director of Global Attitudes Research. “In fact, majorities in most of the nations surveyed say the world’s changing climate is either causing harm in people’s lives now or will cause harm to them in the near future.”

Across the nations surveyed, a median of 51% believe people are already being harmed by climate change and another 28% think people will be harmed in the next few years. More than half of those polled in 39 of 40 countries are concerned it will cause harm to them personally during their lifetime, and a global median of 40% are very worried about this.

“But such broad, general support masks significant partisan differences,” said Bruce Stokes, Director of Global Economic Attitudes. “Opinions on climate change tend to fall along partisan lines in many of the world’s wealthier nations, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia.”

There is general agreement about what should be done to deal with global warming. As the Paris conference approaches, majorities in 39 nations say they support their country limiting its emissions as part of a climate accord. Even in China and the United States, large majorities support an international agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

These are among the key findings from a new Pew Research Center survey, conducted in 40 nations among 45,435 respondents from March 25 to May 27, 2015. Additional key findings in the report include:

Climate Change Consequences: People worldwide are concerned about a variety of possible consequences of climate change, but drought tops the list. Drought is the most commonly named consequence (or tied for the most commonly named) in 31 countries, including the U.S., where 50% say this is the possible effect that concerns them most. Fears of drought are particularly prevalent in Latin America and Africa. In both regions, a median of 59% say this is their top concern.

Lifestyle Changes: According to most respondents, confronting climate change will entail more than just policy changes; it will also require significant changes in how people live. A global median of 67% say that to reduce the effects of climate change, people will have to make major changes in their lives. A median of just 22% believe technology can solve this problem without requiring major changes. Even in the U.S., a country known for its technological innovations, 66% believe people will need to significantly alter their lifestyles.

Wealthy nations should do more: In most countries, people tend to believe much of the burden for dealing with climate change should be shouldered by wealthier countries. Across the nations polled, a median of 54% agree with the statement “Rich countries, such as the U.S., Japan and Germany, should do more than developing countries because they have produced most of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions so far.” A median of just 38% believe “Developing countries should do just as much as rich countries because they will produce most of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions in the future.”

Partisan Divides:  In the U.S., Democrats (68%) are much more likely than Republicans (20%) to believe climate change is a very serious problem and Democrats (82%) more than adherents of the GOP (50%) are supportive of government action to limit greenhouse gas emissions.  Partisan divisions on perceptions of climate change are also seen in several other relatively wealthy nations. In Canada, 45% of the supporters of the Conservative party believe that global warming will harm them personally. This compares with 71% of Liberals, who just assumed leadership of the country.

In Australia there is a similar difference, just 31% of Liberals see climate change as harming them, compared with 65% of Labor Party supporters and 72% of Greens. In Germany, 51% of CDU/CSU followers are worried about the personal effects of global warming, but 63% of SPD supporters and 76% of Greens hold this view. Similarly, in the UK, followers of the Conservative Party (39%) are far less worried than backers of the Labour Party (49%).

Support for Emissions Limits: Roughly two-thirds (69%) of Americans favor Washington agreeing to a multilateral commitment to limit the burning of pollutants such as coal, natural gas or petroleum. In China, the nation responsible for the greatest annual release of CO2 into the atmosphere, about seven-in-ten (71%) support an international treaty to curtail emissions. Regionally, the greatest enthusiasm for limiting emissions is in Europe (a median of 87%). Support is also strong in Latin America (median of 83%). The lowest backing, while still high, is in the Middle East (73%).

Country-specific findings:  A median of 51% of people across the countries surveyed believe people are already being harmed by climate change, but that figure varies widely by country.  In Brazil, 90% of people surveyed agree, 59% of people in France, 49% in China, 42% in India, 41% in the U.S. and 31% in South Africa. A median of 40% of those in the nations polled believe climate change will harm them in their lifetime. That figure was 78% in Brazil, 69% in India, 39% in South Africa, 35% in France, 30% in the U.S. and 15% in China.

The findings are here.


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