World Opinion on the Environment
from International Institutions and Global Governance Program

World Opinion on the Environment

August 12, 2009 2:18 pm (EST)

Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

This page is part of Public Opinion on Global Issues.

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Perception of Climate Change as a Problem or Threat

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Energy and Climate Policy

Polls and Public Opinion

A majority in every country polled says that global warming is a problem or a threat and that governments should give it a high priority, while only small minorities say it is not a problem. Despite these numbers, people tend to underestimate how much other people are concerned about climate change. While the number of people concerned about climate change has been increasing for some years, recent polls indicate that it may be leveling out. 

Readiness to Take Action

Large majorities around the world support taking action to address the problem of climate change. More often than not, majorities favor taking major steps urgently. Most believe that it will be necessary for people to change their lifestyle in order to reduce their production of climate changing gasses. Support for taking action is higher among those who have more information about climate change. 

Changing Energy Usage

To motivate changes in energy usage, majorities in most countries believe that it will be necessary to increase the cost of energy that causes climate change. The idea of raising taxes on such forms of energy meets with mixed responses. However, support becomes high if respondents are told that the revenues of such a tax will be explicitly earmarked to address the problem of climate change, or will be offset with tax reductions. 

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Reducing Reliance on Oil and Coal

To reduce reliance on oil and coal, large majorities in countries around the world favor creating tax incentives to encourage alternative energy sources and requiring automakers to increase fuel efficiency. Views are more mixed on building new nuclear power plants.

Role of Developing Countries

Majorities in developing as well as developed countries think that developing countries have a responsibility to limit their emissions in an effort to deal with climate change. Among most countries—both developed and developing—there is also a consensus that developed countries should provide developing countries aid as part of a commitment by developing countries to limit their greenhouse-gas emissions. 

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Polls and Public Opinion

Multilateral Efforts to Address Climate Change

Publics in the Muslim world showed mixed views on how helpful UN efforts have been in working to address the problem of climate change. Publics in Europe and the United States showed negative views of multilateral efforts to address climate change, giving poor ratings for European-North American cooperation on climate change. Europeans would like the European Union to play an active role in addressing climate change. 

Assessing Country’s Government in Addressing Problem

Publics gave their governments highly varied ratings in terms of how high a priority they place on addressing climate change. Majorities in nearly all nations polled think that their government should give climate change a higher priority than it does. 

Assessments of Leading Country’s Role in Addressing Problem

Global publics in recent years have largely disapproved of how the United States is handling the problem of climate change. In general, the United States has been most widely seen as the country having the most negative effect on the world’s environment, followed by China, while Germany has received the best ratings. 


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