More people than ever before worried humans are ruining the planet, finds six-year global study

Exclusive: Tens of thousands of people in 20 countries reveal a wave of rising climate anxiety

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent, New York
Tuesday 26 October 2021 19:11
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Related video: Brian Cox discusses climate change

Across the world, people of all ages, genders, educational and cultural backgrounds are overwhelmingly concerned about the climate crisis, research shared exclusively with The Independent shows.

Over the past six years, more than 181,000 people in 20 countries have been asked about the climate crisis in the largest study of its kind.

On the cusp of the United Nations Cop26 summit, where global leaders must negotiate more meaningful and critical climate action, the findings reveal that an ever-growing number worry about the damage being done to the planet. Among the findings:

  • Some 78 per cent of people worry about human-driven damage to the planet – up from 71 per cent in 2014;
  • The steepest rise in those worried is among young people aged 18 to 24 years old. In 2014, this group had the lowest level of environmental concerns (66 per cent) – now their degree of concern has jumped to 77 per cent;
  • 59 per cent of global youth say climate change is a “very serious problem”;
  • People who worry about the climate have more trust in science than those who do not (77 per cent versus 63 per cent). The same group also have more trust in the efficacy of the UN’s platform to get things done (48 per cent versus 33 per cent who are not concerned by climate issues);
  • This group also trusts the UN (48 per cent) more than national governments (34 per cent) in general, suggesting support for global cooperation.

“Among youth globally from 18 to 24 years old, the highest educated generation ever in human history, the rise in environmental concern is steepest,” Martijn Lampert, research director and co-founder of Glocalities, the agency behind the study, told The Independent.

“The vast majority of people who worry about damage to the planet have trust in science. You cannot fool them with fake news. These times require fact-based, courageous and visionary leadership.”

Whether trust in global leaders will be repaid at the Glasgow summit remains to be seen.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, countries committed to dramatically reduce planet-heating emissions to curb the global temperature rise and stave off even more catastrophic impacts. The goals are an increasingly ambitious rise of 1.5C on pre-industrial times, or “well below” 2C. (Currently, the world has heated about 1.1C.)

The world is tracking to hit about 3C this century. The World Meteorological Organisation reported on Monday that greenhouse gas concentrations hit record levels last year, increasing faster than the annual average for the last decade, despite a temporary drop during Covid lockdowns.

Only about half of current emissions-reduction pledges from G20 countries meet the Paris Agreement. Some countries are yet to submit new targets – including top polluters such as China, Australia and India – and others from major emitters, such as Russia and Brazil, fail to meet their commitments.

Glocalities conducted 247,722 interviews with 181,695 respondents in collaboration with the international advocacy organisation Global Citizen. People were quizzed in countries spanning the Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific regions.

Four out of five people in China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey said they were worried about the climate crisis.

The researchers found that in China and India, environmental concerns were expressed more as worries about pollution than the climate crisis. Both countries top the list of the worst air pollution levels in the world. The rise in environmental concerns is strongest in Asia overall.

The study found that in Asia, environmental concern is more prominent among more conservative and “achievement-oriented” sections of society. In Europe and North America, people from more cosmopolitan and creative backgrounds were more focused on the climate crisis.

North America is the only continent where environmental concerns have decreased since 2019, despite rising concern among young people. These declining concerns have been accompanied by increasing polarisation in politics, especially in the US.

Michael Sheldrick of Global Citizen told The Independent that while support for climate action was rising, particularly in G20 countries, the response was falling short.

“[The] G20 isn’t taking these increased climate threats seriously – as they are not acting on behalf of the most vulnerable communities on the front lines of climate change,” he said.

“[The] plan to reach $100bn (£73bn) for developing countries by 2023 is too slow – this promise needs to happen much sooner, and any shortfalls must be met so that in total $500bn is given to climate financing between now and 2025. This latest announcement does not reflect the urgency that our leaders need to carry into Cop26 next week.”

Rich countries will be three years late on the long-promised annual $100bn climate crisis fund for poor nations, it was revealed on Monday.

The target was seen as crucial to winning the trust of developing countries to make their own carbon-cutting commitments in Glasgow next week. Now experts expressed “confidence that it would be met in 2023”.

The full trend survey report can be downloaded here

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