As high-level talks at the Doha Climate Conference got underway this week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned humanity was locked in a “race against time” against global warming. However, GlobeScan’s most recent opinion polling shows that the global public’s concern about the climate continues to fall sharply.
After rising for much of the last decade, the proportion of people describing climate change as a “very serious” issue dropped in the wake of the failed 2009 Copenhagen intergovernmental summit, and while it rose again slightly between 2010 and 2011, it has resumed its decline this year, and now stands at 50 percent.
The fall in concern this year is concentrated mostly in developing economies, whereas concern in Western countries has stabilized (UK, USA and Canada), or even risen slightly (France). Indeed, concern in Mexico and Kenya stands at its lowest level ever in those countries, and is well below historic highs in all nations. Evidence suggests that persistently hard economic times have distracted people from less immediate challenges like the environment, but with emerging markets maintaining mostly healthy growth over recent years, even as the G7 continues to struggle, immediate economic jeopardy does not seem to be the only factor at work.
GlobeScan data from developing nations suggests that many equate reduced emissions with reduced living standards and potentially slower growth. Indeed in Mexico, India, and Indonesia, sharp falls in those who think climate change is “very serious” have coincided with large rises in those who agree that cutting emissions will damage the economy. It is also possible that controversies over climate science, including leaked emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit and predictions made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have sown more doubt in the public’s mind than was first realised.
This diminished level of public pressure for tough action to curb emissions, together with the ever greater share of global CO2 emissions coming from developing world, looks likely to make agreement at Doha even less probable—and the consequences even more grave.