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Global Opinion on Climate Change

Source : Pexel

For nearly fifteen years, EDF and Ipsos have been polling public opinion around thirty countries on climate change perceptions: are people worried? Do they consider the fight against global warming a priority? What are possible solutions?
Conducted among 24,000 people living in different climatic, cultural and political conditions, results from the 2023 edition show significant changes.
In the collective work just published by EDF – A mobilised world? Global opinion on climate change (Une planète mobilisée ? L’opinion mondiale face au changement climatique) – around twenty social science researchers analyse the results. Introduced by CEVIPOF researcher Daniel Boy, who highlights unexpected and widespread change in climate change perceptions, the book includes contributions from five researchers at the Center for European Studies and Comparative Politics (CEE): Emiliano Grossman and Charlotte Halpern examine opinions on climate policies, Richard Balme looks at the opinions of the Chinese, and Lucien Thabourey and Florence Faucher at those of the British. In addition, Christophe Jaffrelot, researcher at the Center for International Studies (CERI), delves into the perceptions of Indians, and Marc Lazar, researcher at the Center for History and CERI, into those of Italians. An overview.

Public climate policies: generally favourable attitudes, but limited room to manoeuvre

Given the resistance that climate policy measures might face, what room to manoeuvre do governments have? Emiliano Grossman and Charlotte Halpern explored this question with 13 survey questions on policy measures (such as the creation of a toll to access urban centres, the development of offshore wind turbines, bans on short-distance flights…). On average, people tend to support climate-friendly measures, but this support weakened between 2019 and 2022. A more detailed analysis shows that the richer the country, the less the public supports such measures (see graph below), with the French among the least supportive.

How to explain this relationship? One hypothesis is that the level of support varies according to respondents’ perception of reality or likelihood of the measures being implemented. Low-income countries, where these issues remain relatively abstract and the likelihood of binding measures is lower, record the most favourable attitude on the proposed measures. In wealthier countries, the opposite is true: the measures already taken are more ambitious, their implementation is constraining, and their cost in terms of behaviour change is high for a larger share of the population, fuelling resistance.

Environmental Patriotism and Techno-Optimism in China

According to survey data analysed by Richard Balme, the Chinese are ‘environmentally patriotic’ in the sense that they care about the environment are concerned about environmental problems, and have a very positive perception of the authorities’ commitment to tackling them. The data is at odds with China’s image as the world’s leading polluter. Chinese concern – higher than the average among the 30 countries surveyed – pairs with optimism and support for the energy transition: 57% (9 points higher than the 30-country average) believe that the environment should be prioritised, even if this means slowing growth and destroying jobs; 59% (the highest of any country surveyed) think that their country will prioritise the environment over the economy in the coming months (graph below). This optimism is largely attributable to confidence in technological solutions. In fact, 43% of Chinese people rank technological progress and innovation ahead of behavioural change as the solution to climate change (+12 points compared to the average, and +21 points compared to France).

Passivity and Pessimism in The UK

Although the UK is the cradle of environmental protection movements and recent environmental movements suggests, the population is mobilised on climate issues, the survey data analysed by Lucien Thabourey and Florence Faucher show conflicting results. Although the British rank the environment fairly high on their list of priorities (43% vs. 40% for the 30-country average), they are on average less concerned than other countries (62% vs. 69%). They are relatively passive both politically (see graph below) and individually, preferring to rely on their government (which 74% of Britons think should act first, versus 68% on average and 66% in France). Nevertheless, they are pessimistic about their government’s ability to balance environmental preservation and economic growth: only 18% believe that their country will prioritise the environment in coming months, compared to a global average of 32%.

Italy, Between Energy Transition and Social Emergency

In Italy, as elsewhere, but more than anywhere else, the economy takes precedence. While 77% of respondents consider the environmental situation in their country to be poor, the share rises to 85% of the economic situation. These results are well above the average for the 30 countries surveyed. Even more strikingly, only 45% of Italians agree that the environment should be prioritised (7 points less than in 2021) even if this would slow growth and destroy jobs, while 39% would choose growth and jobs even if that meant damaging the environment.
Distrustful of the political class, Italians place their trust in civil society players, particularly scientists.
Above all, they trust themselves when it comes to everyday actions. In fact, Italians eat ‘ecologically’ (local and seasonal produce) and sort of waste more than elsewhere. However, they are mainly motivated by financial considerations with regard to energy conservation.
And yet, as Marc Lazar highlights, given their constant concern about natural disasters and attachment to landscapes, one would expect environmental issues to rank more prominently.

India: Between Awareness and Inertia

As Christophe Jaffrelot observes, India is the country where the public is most concerned about environmental issues among the countries studied, with a score of 8.7 out of 10 versus the average is 7.6. But the survey shows that only 45% of Indians surveyed place the environment at the top of their list of concerns, behind unemployment and corruption. Another contradictory result is that only 31% of Indians consider their country’s environmental situation to be ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ bad… Furthermore, only 60% see a link between human activity and climate change. The share of climate sceptics rose by 11 points in one year – no doubt due to the wave of misinformation invading social networks and the media. Air quality is unsurprisingly the top environmental concern (mentioned by 45% of respondents).

This study also highlights is the importance of geography and culture in perceptions of needed reforms. For example, while meat consumption is not an issue in India, public transportation is highly salient. The idea of replacing air travel with rail travel, even over short distances, is most popular in India (41% vs. 28% global average) – an opinion that reflects the population’s low standard of living as well as a very old train culture.

To find out more, download the report here 
Witkowski, Didier & Boy, Daniel (dir.), Une planète mobilisée ? L’opinion mondiale face au changement climatique, Paris, EDF, 2023

Presentation written by Véronique Etienne, Center for European Studies and Comparative Politics and Hélène Naudet, Communication Department.