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Forgetting Copenhagen: poll results on the outcome of COP-15

Andrea Liverani's picture

This post was drafted around midnight, Dec 16, 2009. In 48 hours COP-15 will have delivered on its objectives, or perhaps not—by the time you read this, you should know. My message here is that the outcome of global negotiation should not be emphasized so as to divert attention from the core issue, i.e., the policies to be put in place, the resources to be raised, and the politics to be changed, domestically.

I have been blogging these past few days on what people (in our multicountry poll) think of different aspects of the climate change debate. Now I'm turning to what people believe regarding the negotiations. It turns out that most of our roughly 13,000 respondents are happy to see their countries limit GHGs in the context of a deal. This was somewhat expected, although the numbers are striking (and remember that respondents were told in a previous set of questions on 'willingness to pay'  that such limits would come at a cost.)

Do you think it costs the earth? Willingness to pay for climate policies—results from our multi-country poll

Andrea Liverani's picture

According to some media reports, Copenhagen is turning into the ultimate ‘numbers game’. Negotiators are scrambling over the pieces of text that remain in parenthesis because they have not yet been agreed upon. Most of these are numbers—medium-term targets for cutting GHG emissions (17%, 20% or 40%), target dates (2020 or 2030), baselines (1990 or 2005) and, of course, money.

Now, the climate change debate has long been about money. A whole body of literature blossomed by trying to assign a cost to mitigation and adaptation actions, usually coming up with guesstimates often expressed in percent of global GDP. For instance, in his Review on the Economics of Climate Change, Nicholas Stern, former chief economist of the World Bank, estimated that the requirement for additional annual investments equals 2 percent of GDP.

There’s a lot less work, though, on how much we are willing to pay. This gap is striking, given that the consumers and tax payers are those that will ultimately bear the cost of climate mitigation. Climate policy (and climate agreements) will be decided on the basis of what is needed in terms of investments and what is available, which at least in part depends on what the public is willing to contribute. To fill this gap we decided to go ahead and ask people directly, and here are the results.

Missing the point? Not so bad after all...

Marianne Fay's picture

Andrea Liverani has blogged about the fact that in only 8 of 14 countries polled is there a majority of people believing in a scientific consensus around climate change. Yet it turns out that this is a lot less worrisome than those hoping for action on climate change might fear. 

In fact, what the poll teaches us is that many people believe that climate change is a serious issue even as they don't believe in a scientific consensus. See the graph below on the left: some 20 to 65 percent believe in the consensus, but in no country do less than 70 percent of those polled think that climate change is serious.  Why?  I suppose they just see the evidence in their daily lives. 

And perhaps even more interesting, in most countries people polled thought their government should do more to combat climate changeeven when they did not believe in the scientific consensus. See the graph below on the right: in all but three countries, more than 55 percent of those polled thought their government should do more to combat climate change.

Embracing climate gate

Andrea Liverani's picture

Thoughts on poll results regarding perceptions of the scientific consensus on climate change across countries. 

As with good jokes, timing is key to good scandals. The recent one engulfing a group of climate scientists within and around the University of East Anglia, who have been accused of tweaking data and distorting scientific debate, is no exception. Surfacing a few days ahead of Copenhagen, it allowed for intense and sustained media coverage and delivered a heavy political blow. At any rate, my intention here is not to discuss whether or not the timing of “climate gate” was accidental or whether there is any real substance to the accusations. Rather, this blog post looks at the impact of climate gate, asking whether it might indeed have some positive consequences and improve our chances of getting our act together.

Our recent multi-country poll questioned respondents on their belief in the scientific consensus on climate change. All participants were asked whether they thought that a) “most scientists think climate change is an urgent problem and enough is known to take action”; or b) “most think the problem is not urgent, and not enough is known to take action”; or c) “views are pretty evenly divided”.  At first glance the results might seem positive (see chart). 

Multicountry climate poll: Don’t wait until tomorrow

Andrea Liverani's picture

So how long do we have to wait to see climate impacts? We know that scientists, economists, and politicians confront this question routinely, giving rise to much debate. Our recent multicountry poll shows that people around the world already have their own answer. Particularly in developing countries, ordinary people believe that climate change is damaging them—now.

 
Urgency: how soon will the effects of climate change be felt?

In 8 of the 15 countries, a majority of the public thinks climate change is substantially harming their fellow citizens now. Some of the largest majorities on this question appeared among people in the low-income countries: in Kenya 88 percent think people in their country are being harmed now, in Vietnam 86 percent, and in Senegal 75 percent. In both China (71 percent) and India (59 percent) large majorities believe that impacts are being felt now.

On the other hand, in five countries, less than half the public thinks that climate change is affecting their country negatively now: Russia (27 percent), the US (34 percent), Indonesia (39 percent), Iran (42 percent), and France (47 percent).

Who on earth cares about climate change?

Andrea Liverani's picture

Answers from a multi-country opinion poll  

Does anyone really know what world leaders are thinking about climate change? Well, at least their public statements are covered on TV.  Knowing what common people think is another ball game entirely. Some opinion polls on climate change shed light on public attitudes, but most pay little or no attention to developing countries.

With this in mind, the team working on the World Bank’s World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change commissioned a multi-country poll of public attitudes to climate change, which for the first time targeted developing countries with a comprehensive set of questions regarding climate policy.

Our aim was to a) give the public in developing countries voice in a debate often dominated by developed countries’ views, and b) provide decision makers with a tool to assess the state of public views on climate change in their countries. Countries polled include: Kenya, Senegal, India, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Vietnam, China, Indonesia, Turkey, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, France, Japan, and the USA.