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Global warming : what is the state of worldwide public opinion?


Temperature Map. Credit : NASA

Climatologists all agree that global warming will affect the entire world. However, awareness of the issues and concerns it raises vary greatly from one country and one continent to the next. This is demonstrated by a number of recent surveys, which should certainly be borne in mind by those taking part in COP21, to be held in Paris in 100 days’ time. This is in order to fulfil the expectations of some and to increase the awareness of others regarding the need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

The findings of American researchers for the journal Nature Climate Change, based on surveys conducted in 119 countries, are thought-provoking. They suggest that 40% of the world population has never heard of global warming. This proportion is as high as 65% in India, Pakistan and Egypt. Conversely, the vast majority (more than 75%) of people in developed countries (Europe, North America, Japan, Australia) are aware of this current phenomenon. The same applies to Brazil, Argentina and Russia. However, perceptions of the threat of climate change vary greatly from country to country, and this is not linked to the level of awareness that the population possesses. Levels of concern are therefore very high (more than 80%, if not more than 90% of those who are aware) in all South American countries, Mexico, India and in several African countries. In the developed world (with the exception of Japan), the risk is perceived as remote and people are more confident of our ability to adapt. Confronted with the diverse range of global warming awareness, the authors of the study recommended developing communications strategies specific to each country and conducting effective campaigns to educate the general public so as to stimulate vital public commitment and support.

This differing awareness is confirmed by another study undertaken in 40 countries by the Pew Research Center. They asked those surveyed to rank the main risks from seven major world threats in order of importance. The results were as follows; climate change was ranked on average as the biggest concern (46%), but the Americans, for example, ranked economic instability ahead of climate change, with 51% and 42% respectively. Conversely, the latter took the number one spot in half of the Asian countries, several African countries and all those in South America, i.e. in those areas that are already facing the very real impact of global warming (drought, unusual weather events, natural disasters, etc.) On the other hand, Russia, Ukraine and Poland – where the winters are not yet particularly tropical – are amongst the least-concerned countries (22%, 20% and 14% respectively).

So, what about France? According to the Pew Research Center study, the French are slightly more concerned by climate change than the global average (48%). However, a survey conducted by BVA for Place to B, a platform for journalists, bloggers and artists that was launched with COP21 in mind, reveals that the matter remains a remote concern. Only 13% of respondents consider the fight against global warming to be a priority issue, far behind unemployment (60%) or terrorism (41%). The French people are pessimistic: two-thirds of those surveyed have no confidence in mankind’s ability to preserve the planet. However, 62% say they are prepared to take individual action to reduce their GHG emissions and 50% hope that mobilising worldwide opinion will be successful in putting pressure on decision-makers.

That is, perhaps, what will be necessary, as seem to think the 10,000 people from 83 countries, who took part in a live online public debate on climate change organised in June by French consultancy Missions Publiques, the Danish Board of Technology and the Commission Nationale du Débat Public (French National Commission for Public Debate). More than 45% of respondents thought that their country was not doing enough to combat global warming. Out of 10, 7 also stated that the international negotiations conducted since 1992 had not gone far enough. Meanwhile, 8 out of 10 people were of the opinion that their country should take action against GHG emissions, with or without the agreement of neighbouring countries.

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