Earth Day 2023 – Is concern and focus slipping on climate change?
A new global Ipsos survey of 21,231 adults on average across 29 countries reveals that Australian opinions are evenly split on whether now is a good time to take action on climate change, given the tough economic conditions.
- Australians are divided on whether now is a good time to invest in measures to reduce climate change given the tough economic conditions. Just over a third (36%) say now is the right time, compared to 33% who say it is the wrong time. However, 51% disagree that the negative impact of climate change is too far in the future to worry about (compared to 19% who agree).
- Global opinion is also divided on whether now is the right time to invest in climate change or not (38% say now is the right time and 30% say it is the wrong time), although a majority disagree that the negative impact of climate change is too far in the future to worry about (52% vs 23%).
- When it comes to who should act, Australians continue to see government (61%), individuals (58%) and businesses (57%) in roughly equal measure as having the responsibility to act.
- There is a similar pattern among the global public when it comes to who should act: individuals (63%), government (61%), and businesses (59%).
- Furthermore, the view that the economic cost of climate change itself will be greater than the cost of measures to reduce it prevails among Australians over the opposing view (42% vs 25%).
- This is similar to the global picture (42% vs 26%).
- Looking at actions to try and tackle climate change, just over a quarter of Australians (26%) say they would be willing to pay more taxes to help prevent it, lower than the global average of 30%.
- Slightly more Australians say they would be most encouraged to take more action to fight climate change through financial incentives/tax cuts for environmentally friendly purchases (35% compared to 38% globally) or by having easy access to information to fight it (35% compared to 36% globally).
- Understanding of the behaviours that households could take to reduce their carbon footprint shows progress since last year. In particular, awareness of the positive impact of switching to purchasing renewable energy has increased by 8 percentage points.
What is the plan?
The proportion of Australians who believe that the government has a clear plan in place for how government, businesses and people are going to work together to tackle climate change has dropped by percentage points in the past year to 30%. This is similar to the drop seen in other countries, with the global agreement falling by an average 8 percentage points across the 26 countries surveyed both in 2022 and this year.
Outside of India and Southeast Asia, awareness of government plans to tackle climate change remains low in 2023, at a global average of one third (31%).
Across the 29 countries, citizens continue to perceive action as a shared responsibility between citizens (63%), government (61%), businesses (59%). However, there is less belief in the need to act on climate change to prevent failing future generations, customers, employees, and people generally compared to 2022 when looking at the 26 countries surveyed both last year and this year.
In general, more citizens say that the economic cost of climate change itself will be greater than the cost of measures to reduce it. However, this is not a consensus view, with two-fifths (42%) globally saying this, compared to a quarter (26%) who say the cost of mitigating climate change would be greater. With the exception of Japan (23% and 30% respectively), there is stronger belief in every country surveyed that the economic cost of climate change itself will be greater than the cost of measures to reduce it.
Who is leading the pack?
Citizens in most countries surveyed do not see their country as being a leader in tackling climate change.
In Australia, just under a quarter 24% agree that we are a world leader. This compares to 31% on average globally, with the highest proportions found in India (71%) and Malaysia (51%).
Just under two thirds (60%) of Australians agree that we should be doing more to combat climate change (compared to a global average of 66%). However, just 55% of Australians agree that the greater burden should fall on countries that have historically contributed more to climate change compared to 62% globally
There is agreement across the 29 countries (averaging at 75%) that we cannot fully tackle climate change unless all countries work together, although Australians have slightly lower agreement, at 71%.
What are we going to do?
Globally, citizens generally do not dismiss the importance of individual action, with seven in ten (70%) globally agreeing that, if everyone made small changes in their everyday lives, it would have a big impact on tackling climate change. However, opinions are more divided on whether climate change is beyond our control. While almost half (48%) disagree with this statement and just a quarter (24%) agree, views vary widely between countries.
- Australia is close to the global average, with 50% disagreeing. One in five (20%) agree.
- Disagreement is highest in South Africa (60%), Great Britain (57%) and Poland (57%), and lowest in India (14%) and Japan (32%).
There is similar division over whether now is the right time or not to be investing in climate change given the tough economic conditions (38% say it is the right time and 30% say it is the wrong time), but the majority (52%) disagree that the negative impacts of climate change were too far off to be worried about.
A quarter of Australians (26%) say that they would pay more income tax to help prevent climate change, with Millennials (34%) and Gen Z (31%) more willing than older generations.
- Globally, three in ten (30%) agree that they would pay more of their income in taxes to help prevent climate change, but more (38%) disagree.
When asked which of various options would motivate them to make a change, citizens are most likely to say it’s a financial incentive or tax cut for environmentally friendly purchases (38%), having easy access to information on steps they can take every day (36%), and seeing climate-driven weather events’ impact on their own country (34%).
Just 14% globally say they are already doing everything they can to fight climate change.
Perils of perception
In general, citizens tend to perceive many actions as having a far greater impact on reducing emissions than they actually do – globally, the “believe-true gap” persists. Compared to last year, there has been an increase in understanding surrounding some of the actions households can take to reduce their carbon footprint. Awareness of the positive impact of switching to purchasing renewable energy was ranked by the public as the best way to reduce emissions (ranking 4th in terms of its actual impact), up 8 percentage points. However, recycling (32%) and using less packaging (24%) (ranking 60th and 38th respectively in terms of actual impact), are still perceived to have more impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions than living car-free (18%), the most effective way to cut emissions.
The public is also fairly divided on which sectors contribute the most to global warming, placing greater emphasis on products that deplete the ozone layer than other, more polluting sectors such as industry, and deforestation.
Stuart Clark, Director at Ipsos Public Affairs said "This year’s wave of research shows a global trend for reduced expectations of individuals, government, and business to act to tackle climate change. Australia is following this trend."
"Australians are still very clearly concerned about the looming impacts of climate change, but the current economic conditions may be blunting the appetite for immediate action for some."
"The Ipsos Issues Monitor shows that concern about the cost of living is at the highest level we have seen it since we started tracking in 2010. It makes sense that some Australians are softening their expectations on climate action given this context."
About this study
These are the results of a 29-country survey conducted by Ipsos on its Ipsos Global Advisor online platform, and in India, on its IndiaBus platform. Ipsos interviewed an international sample of 21,231 online adults aged 18 years and older in India, 18-74 in, Canada, Malaysia, South Africa, Turkey and the United States, 20-74 in Thailand, 21-74 in Indonesia and Singapore, and 16-74 in all other markets between 20th January and 3rd February 2023 in 28 countries and 17th February and 3rd March 2023 in Switzerland.