Most in the developed world think the US is doing a bad job on climate, Pew poll finds

Local people are rescued by a boat as flooding due to heavy rain inundated Takeo City in western Japan on August 15, 2021.
CNN  — 

Despite efforts from President Joe Biden to turn the United States into a global climate leader, most people in the advanced world don’t think the US is doing a good job on the issue, and China is doing even worse, a new poll by the Pew Research Center published Tuesday shows.

The poll, of more than 18,000 people in 17 developed economies, offers a detailed snapshot into concerns around the climate crisis. It comes as the US Congress is debating a massive spending bill with provisions to slash fossil-fuel emissions, and less than two months before the United Nations-brokered climate talks begin in Glasgow.

Respondents expressed serious doubts that international climate efforts would effectively address the magnitude of the climate crisis – 52% of respondents lacked confidence a multilateral response would be successful, while 46% were optimistic that nations could respond by cooperating.

But the poll also suggested a growing awareness of the impacts of climate change, with 72% of respondents concerned that the climate crisis would personally harm them at some point during their lifetimes. In addition, 80% said they were willing to make personal sacrifices, or change their behavior, to address the crisis.

Jacob Poushter, Pew’s associate director of research and one of the authors of the report, said while concerns around climate had grown since the center’s last survey in 2015, it was still a polarizing issue in some parts of the advanced world.

“We do have a trend, where there’s a lot more people who are very concerned about the personal harm of climate change since 2015,” Poushter told CNN. “This is especially true in Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia and South Korea.”

“But there’s pretty large ideological divides on a lot of these questions,” he added. “There’s more polarization on this issue in the US, and to some extent Australia, than many of the other countries that we surveyed.”

The US part of the poll was carried out in February, while respondents in the 16 other places took part between mid-March to nearly the end of May 2021. People were also surveyed in Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Sweden, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.

That was before extreme weather events over the summer hit much of the Northern Hemisphere in heatwaves, wildfires, hurricanes and flash flooding. Though many respondents live in parts of the world where such events are becoming increasingly common.

Who cares about climate?

In terms of the personal impact of the climate crisis, Germany, the UK, Australia and South Korea showed the biggest increases in the number of respondents saying they were “very concerned” about the crisis, compared with 2015 polling.

South Koreans were most concerned overall, when looking at respondents who were either “somewhat” or “very” concerned (88%), followed by Greece (87%), Spain (81%), Italy (80%), France (77%) and Germany (75%).

In Sweden, only 44% said they were “somewhat” or “very concerned,” followed by the Netherlands (59%), the United States (60%) and Australia (64%).

In the US, public views about the climate crisis did not change significantly when compared with the 2015 poll.

In contrast, Japan was the only place that saw a significant drop, 8 percentage points less, in the number of respondents “very concerned” about climate change. The decline comes as the country recorded its earliest cherry blossom season and faced deadly floods and heat waves in recent years, which scientists say are due to warming temperatures.

Old vs. young; women vs. men

Young adults were generally more concerned than their older counterparts about how warming temperatures would impact them personally, according to the poll. Sweden, home to the prominent youth climate activist Greta Thunberg, came out with the widest generational gap, with 65% of 18- to 29-year-olds at least “somewhat concerned” about the climate crisis affecting them, 40 percentage points higher than adults 65 and older.

The US, Canada, France, New Zealand, and Australia also saw a substantial age gap in public view about the rapidly warming planet. But over-65s in Greece and South Korea were more concerned than the younger age group.

“It’s not new to us that younger people around the world are more concerned about climate change,” said Poushter.

“It’s the same when we asked the question of whether global climate change is a threat – and so that’s really a consistent binding that we had.”