Saturday, July 14, 2007

Climate polling in developed countries and in developing countries

Climate Feedback: HSBC announced the results of their international survey on public attitudes to climate change in London this morning.

The survey found a gulf between public opinion on climate change in developed and developing nations, with people in developing economies showing greater concern, commitment and optimism in solving global warming compared with respondents in developed countries. The results challenge the myth of committed developed world countries leading on climate change with reluctant developing nations trailing behind, said Jon Williams, Head of Group Sustainable Development at HSBC, speaking at the event.

Conducted in 9 countries (UK, France, Germany, USA, Mexico, Brazil, China, Hong Kong and India) during April 2007, the internet survey asked 1000 participants in each nation to rank their level of agreement on four statements on a 1-7 scale (with 1 representing strong disagreement and 7 representing strong agreement) as follows:

“Climate change and how we respond to it are among the biggest issues I worry about today”.
“The people and organisations who should be doing something about climate change are doing what is needed”.
“I am personally making a significant effort to help reduce climate change through how I live my life today”.
“I believe we can stop climate change”.

Europeans, it seems, are a bunch of ‘sceptical pessimists’, with the lowest scores overall. While we are reasonably concerned about climate change, we have little confidence, optimism or commitment in solving it. Only 6% of UK respondents agreed with the statement “I believe we can stop climate change” compared with 18% in the US and 45% in India.

UK respondents also showed a surprising lack of belief that they are making a significant effort to reduce their personal carbon footprint, in contrast to 44% of those interviewed in China, 47% in both Brazil and India and 23% in the US. And why would we? It seems, according to the survey, we’re not really that concerned about climate change, being far more freaked out by terrorism. On levels of concern, UK citizens (22%) and Germans (26%) scored lowest.

In contrast, Mexico, Brazil and India make up the ‘committed concerned’, with approx 60% worried about climate change. Almost half are certain they are making the necessary changes to avert a climate catastrophe. Some of the findings are somewhat less surprising – US citizens are ‘sceptical optimists’ – more confident and optimistic than their cynical European counterparts that we will solve the global warming problem. China and Hong Kong, the ‘committed confident’, show the greatest belief that the people and organisations responsible are already doing what they should be doing to tackle the problem.

Developed countries are suffering from ‘green rejection’– cynicism towards the problem, solutions to it and the intuitions responsible for effecting change, concludes the report. This is perhaps due to a barrage of increasingly cluttered and unclear messages on the issue, Williams suggested.

The solution? There needs to be “an awareness of the growing number of practical and affordable solutions that can increasingly influence individuals' longer-term lifestyle choices and spending habits", said Mark Kenber, Policy Director of The Climate Group, a member of the HSBC Climate Partnership. Asked whether HSBC would be willing to consider subsidising such solutions in developing nations, the answer was negative.

Back to the questions though - Although it would seem reasonable to ask whether we could avert dangerous climate change by taking action to reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations, it seems rather unrealistic to ask whether "we can stop climate change”. The latest IPCC report on the science of climate change states that “Even if concentrations of all greenhouse gases and aerosols had been kept constant at year 2000 levels, a further warming of about 0.1°C per decade would be expected.” It’s not clear whether the skewed negative response in developed nations on this issue reflects genuine pessimism or just a greater level of education on the issues.

Similarly, reducing your carbon footprint to a sustainable level (let’s say 2.5 tonnes of carbon per year) takes a considerable effort – but also considerable awareness of the challenge. Without knowing whether people’s beliefs about their personal commitment to cut carbon reflect their actions, it is hard to know whether this result is positive (reflecting real action) or negative (borne out of blindness to the scale of the challenge).

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