Biggest emitters of carbon 'least worried about climate change'

Apples bearing the World Climate Change Conference logo. For leaders at the talks, domestic constraints could make it hard for their efforts to bear fruit.
Apples bearing the World Climate Change Conference logo. For leaders at the talks, domestic constraints could make it hard for their efforts to bear fruit.PHOTO: REUTERS

Global poll also finds wide gap in fears over how it will hit people

NEW YORK • As world leaders prepare to gather in Paris next month to address global warming, their populations generally agree on the need to curb greenhouse gas emissions, but the countries that emit the most carbon dioxide per person are also the ones least worried about climate change, according to a poll released on Thursday by the Pew Research Centre.

The survey, which sampled people in 40 countries, found that in every nation surveyed except Pakistan, a majority of respondents supported placing limits on the emissions of gases that are warming the planet. In the United States, 69 per cent did; in China, 71 per cent; in Nigeria, 77 per cent; and in Brazil, 88 per cent.

But the intensity of concern about rising temperatures varies significantly across the world, the poll found, hinting at some of the domestic constraints leaders could face in negotiating deals in Paris that may impose short-term costs on their economies.

Respondents in the US, Australia and Russia, among the top carbon polluters per capita, were substantially less alarmed about the problem than their counterparts in India, Kenya and Mexico, which have less industrialised economies.

In the US and France, the proportion of people who say global climate change is a "very serious problem" increased over the past five years, according to the poll.

In the US, 45 per cent said the problem was very serious, compared with 37 per cent in 2010, while in France the proportion rose to 56 per cent from 46 per cent during the same period.

By contrast, the proportion of respondents who see the problem as very serious declined over the past five years in China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Indonesia, Turkey and Argentina, the survey found.

In China, the proportion saying the problem was very serious fell to 18 per cent from 41 per cent. In Japan, it declined to 45 per cent from 58 per cent.

Fears about climate change were strongest in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa.

In Australia, Britain, China, Germany, Israel and Poland, fewer than 20 per cent of respondents said they were very concerned that climate change would personally harm them during their lifetimes; in Brazil, Burkina Faso, Ghana, the Philippines and Uganda, more than 70 per cent did.

The poll also found general agreement that rich countries should do more than poor countries to shoulder the burden of dealing with the problem because the former have produced most of the world's greenhouse gas emissions so far, even though the latter will produce more planet-warming emissions in the years to come.

Drought was the most common concern cited by respondents when asked about the consequences of climate change, followed closely by severe weather.

In the US, anxiety about drought was most prevalent in the West and the Mid-West, which have both experienced water shortages in recent years.

The poll asked citizens of five large developing countries whether their governments should develop alternative energy sources, like wind and solar power; expand exploration and production of oil, coal and natural gas; or build more nuclear power plants.

The majority in Brazil (73 per cent) and China (51 per cent) expressed support for alternative energy sources; in India, 44 per cent did.

People in Russia and South Africa were more likely to say that all three approaches should be given equal priority.

The survey was conducted from March 25 to May 27 among 45,435 respondents in 40 countries.

The survey included telephone and face-to-face interviews conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2015, with the headline 'Biggest emitters of carbon 'least worried about climate change''. Print Edition | Subscribe