Who on earth cares about climate change?

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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.

The poll addresses the following dimensions: a) level of concern; b) beliefs about climate change; c) attitudes towards international cooperation on climate change; d) willingness to bear economic costs to support national actions.  The poll was run between September and November 2009 by the Program on International Public Opinion Attitudes (PIPA) -  an internationally respected polling company.

I will present the findings of the poll on this blog over the next few weeks, starting with people’s level of concern about climate change across the world. The poll’s first question was: “In your view, is climate change, also known as global warming, a very serious problem, somewhat serious, not too serious, or not a problem?” The results: people in all countries polled see climate change as a serious problem—either very serious or somewhat serious. 

In low-income countries, the share of people polled who think climate change is a very serious problem are particularly large—75 percent in Kenya, 72 percent in Senegal, and 69 percent in Vietnam. 


Smaller shares of the public in high income countries—the US (31 percent), Japan (38percent), and France (43percent)—saw climate change as very serious. Russia (30 percent) and China (28 percent) also had relatively smaller numbers who consider climate change very serious. 

All the countries with lower shares of their public saying climate change is a very serious problem are also relatively high per capita emitters of CO2. However, even in these high emitting countries, the majority believed that climate change is at least a somewhat serious problem. 

Respondents were then asked whether they thought climate change remained a priority even if climate action entailed costs. “Do you agree strongly, agree somewhat, disagree somewhat or disagree strongly with the following statement:  Dealing with the problem of climate change should be given priority, even if it causes slower economic growth and some loss of jobs.”

Half or more of the public in all 14 countries agreed, either strongly or somewhat, that climate change should be addressed even if there are economic costs. Underlying this broad support for dealing with climate change are some clear country differences. 

Vietnam (63 percent), Kenya (53 percent) and Senegal (46 percent) were the countries with the highest proportion saying “strongly agree.”  The US (14 percent), Japan (18 percent) and Russia (18 percent) were the countries with the lowest proportion saying “strongly agree.”  In the US, 46 percent disagreed either strongly or somewhat that dealing with climate change should be a priority if a consequence would be lower growth or job loss. 

The pattern of some low-income countries being willing to support addressing the problem even in the face of economic harm echoes the findings on seriousness of the problem discussed above.



Andrea Liverani

Lead Specialist in the Europe and Central Asia Region's Environment, Natural Resources and Blue Economy Global Practice

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