Climate change less likely to be seen as an emergency in poor nations

by Sonia Elks | @SoniaElks | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 27 January 2021 07:39 GMT

FILE PHOTO: Environmental activists have their picture taken before the Climate strike protest calling for action on climate change, in Nairobi, Kenya, September 20, 2019. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Image Caption and Rights Information

An online UN survey, distributed through adverts in popular mobile games, shows increasingly global understanding of the climate crisis, but the highest concern is in rich nations

By Sonia Elks

LONDON, Jan 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - People living in the poorest countries are less likely to see climate change as an emergency or think it requires urgent action, the biggest-ever survey of public opinion on the issue showed on Wednesday.

But despite regional differences, almost two-thirds of the 1.2 million people surveyed in about 50 nations agreed global warming was a crisis in the online "Peoples' Climate Vote" poll conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the University of Oxford.

The creators of the game-based poll said their findings showed a clear mandate for policymakers to take stronger action for a greener world.

"There is an increasingly global understanding, and with it comes the ability to act collectively on climate change," UNDP head Achim Steiner told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"What the poll reveals is a validation of a growing sense among people around the world that this is an issue that needs to be dealt with now."

The survey was distributed via adverts in popular mobile gaming apps including Words with Friends, Angry Birds, Dragon City and Subway Surfers between October and December last year.

Players were asked whether they believed climate change was a global emergency and, if they said yes, what the world should do in response.

Overall, 64% of people worldwide said climate change was an emergency.

Nearly six in 10 of those who believed in a climate crisis said the world must act "urgently" on the issue, with only 10% saying the world was already doing enough, though a further 11% backed doing nothing.

And there were some notable disparities between countries.

Those agreeing global warming was an emergency ranged from 72% on average in high-income nations, through to 62% and 58% in middle-income and least-developed countries respectively.

Small island developing states - which have often already faced heavy impacts from a warming world - were an outlier, with 74% saying climate issues were an emergency.

Similarly, the proportion of people calling for urgent action on the issue ranged from seven in 10 among the wealthiest countries to 55% in the least-developed nations.

It was not clear exactly what was driving differences in opinion across countries and regions, said the survey's creators, but factors included age, education levels, urbanisation and the extent of popular debate on climate issues.

The results also showed that young people, who have driven a wave of grassroots climate movements, were more likely to see global warming as an emergency compared to older people.

"There is a sea change that has begun to happen," said Steiner, referring to attitudes and awareness among youth.

"They really are in some ways the driving force of a public opinion that is forming around the world."

The findings offer encouragement for governments and firms acting to combat climate change - and highlight challenges for those who are not - said Richard Black, a senior associate at the British non-profit Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit.

"This poses a difficult question for governments in countries such as Australia, Canada and Poland that are trying to keep high-carbon industries alive: for how much longer will it be feasible to make policies that go against the wishes of your citizens?," he said in a statement.

Read more:

Armed with proposals, young climate activists hunt decision-making power 

Better local climate adaptation means 'we all benefit' in connected world 

Pandemic-hit poor nations need climate finance more than ever

(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.