Respondents in 108 out of 110 areas surveyed say they are either ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ worried about climate change. Results vary by country, with people in Mexico, Portugal and Chile topping the list, with more than nine out of ten people saying they are worried. In comparison, in Yemen, only one in three respondents expressed concern.
On 29 June 2022, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication published a study in collaboration with Meta that looks at climate change beliefs and attitudes in more than 100,000 Facebook users. Respondents represent 192 countries and territories, which the researchers combined into 110 areas in the report.
“The results paint a picture of deep concern about the world and the desire of a significant majority of people to see governments and others take meaningful [climate] action,” said Nick Clegg, president of global affairs at Meta and former deputy UK prime minister, in a press release.
The survey shows that more than half of the respondents in 46 areas know a ‘moderate amount’ about climate change. However, people who say they are knowledgeable about climate change aren’t necessarily people who are worried about it. While 92% of people from Finland say they have at least a moderate amount of knowledge about climate change, only 70% of people say they are at least ‘somewhat’ worried about the issue. That is lower than in most other European countries.
Some countries are already experiencing the consequences of climate change. According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2021, the areas most affected by extreme weather events in 2019 were Mozambique, Zimbabwe and the Bahamas. Puerto Rico, Myanmar and Haiti were the hardest hit for the period 2000–19.
People from those at-risk areas see climate change as a bigger threat than the global average. At least half of the respondents there see climate change as a ‘very serious threat’ over the next 20 years. Puerto Rico ranks the highest here, with 60% of respondents saying climate change is a very serious threat, and another 29% saying it is a ‘somewhat serious threat’.
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While respondents to the survey are divided on who is responsible for climate change – majorities in 43 areas say their government is primarily responsible, 42 areas say individuals and 25 areas say businesses – most agree it should be a ‘very high’ or ‘high’ priority for governments.
That could be an important conclusion because in general, public opinion influences the policy decisions governments make.
Modelling public opinion in climate change
Most climate models exclude public opinion as a factor. However, a study published in Nature earlier this year explored how public opinion might influence the future climate. The researchers included scenarios modelling the reaction of public opinion to climate change impacts such as heatwaves. They found that public opinion can shape climate policy and future emissions scenarios.
“Our … model implies a high likelihood of accelerating emissions reductions over the twenty-first century, moving the world decisively away from a no-policy, business-as-usual baseline,” the study concludes.
In the 100,000 model runs, three big patterns emerged. In almost half of the modelling, global emissions peaked in the 2030s, to then drop over the next 20 years, resulting in global warming of 2.3°C in 2100, above pre-industrial levels. The second most frequent trajectory limited global warming to below 2°C by 2100, while the third most frequent was a pathway with far greater emissions and global warming of 3°C.
For comparison, according to the Climate Action Tracker, current global policies are projected to result in 2.7°C of global warming. This suggests that public opinion may yet lead to greater emissions reductions than the current course of action.