Survey underscores high levels of US scepticism on climate change
The US is a clear outlier in terms of public scepticism of the threat of climate change, according to a comprehensive survey of attitudes to the issue in 28 countries.
The results of the survey, released on Sunday, come ahead of a major UN climate summit in New York next week, where 60 heads of state are expected to make new climate pledges, but those will not include US President Donald Trump.
Even while climate change has become a more prominent issue in the recent Democratic presidential debates, 15 per cent of Americans believe either that the climate is not changing at all, or that it is not changing due to human causes, according to the poll conducted by YouGov.
This figure is the highest of any country in the world, almost three times the global average, and five times as high as fellow big carbon emitters China and India.
Mr Trump has promised to pull the US from the Paris climate accord, the deal signed by almost every country in the world that pledges to limit warming to less than 2C. The US is still technically a member of the accord, but is set to begin the withdrawal process this year.
The YouGov survey of 32,000 people showed that the US was also the country most riven with political division over climate change. The results show that 30 per cent of Republicans are climate sceptics, compared with just 4 per cent of Democrats. This has made green policies a highly partisan issue in the US, raising barriers to their implementation in a binary political system.
“As climate change impacts become more visible, then in the countries where it is happening, concern about climate change is increasing,” said Leo Barasi, author of The Climate Majority, a book that examines climate apathy. “The US is the outlier, nowhere else is strongly like the US,” he continued. However, he said that younger US republicans had started to shift their views on the issue.
There is also a steep age gradient to US concern over climate change that is not present elsewhere. Some 25 per cent of US over-55s are climate sceptics, compared with just 6 per cent of 18-24s. In China and India, there is essentially no gap between climate scepticism, and all age groups are less sceptical than even the youngest Americans.
Globally, the survey reveals that poorer countries or those most exposed to the extreme weather events that climate change may exacerbate are the most likely to acknowledge its existence and the role humanity plays in accelerating the process. They are also most worried about its impacts.
People in Asia are much more concerned about climate change than those in any other region. Of the 28 countries surveyed, all 10 Asian nations ranked among the top 13 for the belief that human activity was at least partly responsible for climate change.
Europeans are on average twice as likely as those in Asia to be climate-sceptics. Those in cooler and wealthier northern European countries are the most sceptical, whereas people in Spain and Italy are almost unanimous in their belief that human-accelerated climate change is real. They are also the two European nations most concerned that they will feel its impacts.
The gradient from wealthy and temperate to poorer and extreme-weather-exposed countries is at its starkest on the question of whether people believe they will face real impacts from climate change. People in every Western country that were surveyed except one are less worried about the effects of climate change than people in every Asian, Middle Eastern or African country.
The exception is Italy, where 82 per cent believe they will feel the effects. The reason for Italy’s exceptionalism becomes clear when respondents are asked what impacts they think climate change will produce. Italians name economic damage and displacement of people as their two primary concerns — two issues the country has been heavily exposed to in recent years.