Climate change, ISIS keeping world awake

Pew survey of 40 countries also shows anxiety about world economic instability

WASHINGTON • Climate change is a big worry in Latin America, Asia and Africa, but the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group spells more anxiety among Europeans and North Americans.

That is what a new global opinion poll suggests, although world economic instability also figures prominently as the top concern in a number of countries, and forms the second-biggest concern in half of the 40 countries surveyed.

The details are in a poll released on Tuesday by the Pew Research Centre in Washington, which said it interviewed 45,435 respondents in the 40 countries to see what issues were most likely to keep them awake at night.

In contrast, the poll - held from March 25 to 27, just as six world powers and Iran were negotiating towards Tuesday's landmark agreement to lift sanctions in return for curbs on Teheran's nuclear programme - shows concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions are limited to a few nations. The same goes for cyber attacks on governments, banks or corporations.

Israelis and Americans are among the most concerned about Iran's nuclear programme, with Israel the only developed country to rate Iran's nuclear programme as a greater risk than ISIS.

The public in 14 countries expressed the greatest concern about ISIS. But those surveyed in countries near Iraq and Syria - where ISIS has wreaked havoc and captured swathes of territory and major cities - viewed the ISIS threat as far more serious.

Lebanese, Jordanians and Palestinians all regarded ISIS as the No. 1 threat, the Pew poll found.

South Koreans and Americans have the greatest concern about cyber attacks relative to the public in other countries.

And apprehensions about tensions between Russia and its neighbours, or territorial rows between China and surrounding countries, largely remain regional concerns.

It is one of the top two concerns in a number of Asian nations, including Vietnam (60 per cent) and the Philippines (56 per cent). Both countries challenge China's claim over islands in the South China Sea, where Beijing has recently constructed artificial islands.

Sixty-one per cent in Latin America identified climate change as their biggest worry, the highest proportion of any region, said Pew in a summary of its findings.

Concern was greatest in Peru and Brazil, running at 75 per cent in both nations, it said.

Climate change was similarly the top concern for 59 per cent of Africans surveyed in nine countries, with fear expressed most frequently in Burkina Faso (79 per cent), Uganda (74 per cent) and Ghana (71 per cent).

In the Asia-Pacific, a majority in half of the 10 countries surveyed identified climate change as the top issue, with the proportion running as high as 73 per cent in India and 72 per cent in the Philippines.

Meanwhile, ISIS was the leading worry in Europe, where 70 per cent expressed serious concern about the threat that it represents, the Pew survey said.

Sixty-eight per cent of Americans and 58 per cent of Canadians felt likewise, and ISIS was also the top concern for a majority of respondents in South Korea, Japan, Australia and Indonesia.

Fear of ISIS was shared by respondents in the Middle East, where 84 per cent of Lebanese - including 90 per cent of its Sunnis and 87 per cent of its Shi'ites - said they were very concerned by the group's proliferation.

Sixty-two per cent of respondents in Jordan and 54 per cent in the Palestinian territories agreed with that concern, Pew said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2015, with the headline 'Climate change, ISIS keeping world awake'. Print Edition | Subscribe