Two-thirds of citizens around the world agree that climate change is as serious as Covid-19

At the beginning of 2020, eight in every ten (80%) online South Africans believed that the average temperatures would increase during the year to come. This opinion was shared by 77% of citizens across the world surveyed at the time. (Ipsos South Africa press release “Predictions 2020”, published on 20 January 2020.)

Amid the Covid-19 crisis, South Africans – and many other citizens across the world – say that governments should not take their eyes off the issue of climate change. In an online study conducted from 21 February 2020 to 6 March 2020, respondents were asked:

"In your view, which are the three most important environmental issues facing South Africa today? That is the top environmental issues you feel should receive the greatest attention from your local leaders?"

climate change chart for sa


Apart from the issue of global warming and climate change, the South African response to this question reflects the environmental issues we have dealt with over the last few years of droughts and the Eskom / energy crisis. Combating water pollution, ensuring high water quality and the availability of future energy sources are mentioned by about a third of online South Africans. As the size of the population places stress on scarce resources, three in every ten also want leaders to give attention to this issue.

Worldwide, two-thirds agreed that government actions should prioritise climate change issues in the economic recovery planning for “the day after tomorrow”, after the Covid-19 crisis. A very high proportion ( 84%) of online South Africans agreed that “If South Africa’s government does not act now to combat climate change, it will be failing the people of South Africa.” (In this opinion, we are only second to Columbia at 87%).

In South Africa, voting behaviour is entrenched and voters seldom change the party they vote for in an election, but almost two-thirds (64%) agreed that “If a political party’s policies don’t deal seriously with climate change, this would put me off voting for them.” Although we should see this as a prompt for political parties to formulate viable environmental policies, it is important to keep in mind that this study was carried out online –covering almost two-thirds of the South African adult population. (Results are therefore not nationally representative .)

Mari Harris, Director and Political Analyst at Ipsos South Africa said:It is interesting to note that the same proportion, namely 84%, of online South Africans expressed the belief in 2014 and again in 2020, that human activities contribute to climate change. And, although much more can be done to encourage citizens to change behaviour, to limit their influences, six in every ten online South Africans are saying that they are prepared to avoid buying products with a lot of packaging and are prepared to recycle materials such as glass, paper and plastic. Policymakers can definitely help entrench these positive climate behaviours, especially by enabling and encouraging South Africans to recycle on a much larger scale.


These are the headlines of the South African findings; the rest of the press release looks at the worldwide findings in more detail.


World Citizens want economic recovery actions to prioritise climate change

A new Ipsos poll conducted in 14 countries finds 71% of adults globally agree that, in the long term, climate change is as serious a crisis as Covid-19 is. The survey shows widespread support for government actions to prioritise climate change in the economic recovery after Covid-19, with 65% globally agreeing that this is important. The survey was conducted online among more than 28,000 adults between 16 April 2020 and 19 April 2020. (It is important to note that South Africa did not form part of this specific 14-country survey.)

Another Ipsos survey, carried out online among more than 20,000 adults across 29 countries between 21 February 2020 and 6 March 2020, finds that while climate change remains the most important environmental issue for citizens globally, citizens are no more likely to say they plan to make changes to their own environmental behaviours than they were six years ago. (South Africa did form part of this study.)

The top global findings include:

  • Climate change remains the most important environmental issue globally, with 37% citing it as one of their three top environmental issues. Other environmental issues that are important to citizens are air pollution (33%) and dealing with the amount of waste we generate (32%), followed by deforestation (26%) and water pollution (25%). Concern for the top four issues has increased since two years ago.
  • The majority of public globally (68%) agree that if their governments do not act now to combat climate change, they will be failing their citizens. Nearly six in ten (57%) say they would be put off from voting for a political party whose policies do not take climate change seriously.
  • Across a range of environmental behaviours, as many as two-fifths globally feel they are already doing as much as they possibly can on specific behaviours. Areas where some feel they have no room to improve include recycling (40% state ‘I am already doing this as much as I possibly can’), saving energy at home (37%), and saving water at home (33%).

Agreement that human activity contributes to climate change, has fallen in some European countries between 2014 and 2020 (by 14 percentage points in Germany, 9 percentage points in Italy and 8 percentage points in France), as well as elsewhere in the world (by 17 percentage points in Brazil, 16 percentage points in China and Japan, and 12 percentage points in Russia) . In other countries such as South Africa, Great Britain and the US, however, there has been no significant change.

Majority of citizens feel they are likely to make changes to their own behaviour to limit personal contribution to climate change. However, the proportion saying they are likely to make such changes has not increased since Ipsos last asked this question six years ago. Citizens remain more likely to plan on taking actions which are convenient and easier to achieve than they are to plan changes which are more far-reaching - such as avoiding flying or making changes to their diet.

  • The public are willing to exercise their spending power; avoiding products which have a lot of packaging is the most popular change, with 57% globally saying they are ‘likely’ to change their behaviour on this in the next year.
  • This is followed by avoiding buying new goods, mending what you have or buying used products instead (52%), saving energy at home (50%), recycling (49%) and saving water at home (49%).

Citizens are divided on how likely they are to undertake less comfortable and convenient lifestyle changes.

  • 41% say they are likely to avoid flying in the next year to limit their personal contribution to climate change, while a third (33%) say they are unlikely to make this change.
  • 41% say they are likely to eat less meat or replace the meat in some meals with alternatives such as beans, in the next year. However, a similar proportion (39%) say they are unlikely to do this.
  • 35% say they are likely to eat fewer dairy products or replacing dairy products with alternatives such as soya milk. Nearly half (49%) say they are unlikely to do this.

There has been very little change since 2014 in how likely the public are to say they plan to change their behaviours to limit their personal contribution to climate change, across the 12 countries where Ipsos has trend data.

  • The lack of change is not because the public in these 12 countries have already taken action; rather, the proportion who report that ‘I am already doing this as much as I can’ across most behaviours has decreased since 2014. This lack of movement may relate to a heightened sense among the public of the difficulty of changing behaviours - increasing awareness of an issue can be accompanied by an increasing sense that little can be done to improve the situation.
  • Diet is the one area where there has been some movement (albeit small) since 2014. 18% in 2020 say they are reducing meat in their diets as much as they can, up from 14% in 2014, and the proportion who say they are unlikely to make this change has also fallen – from 44% in 2014 to 39% in 2020. Fewer now say they are unlikely to reduce their dairy product consumption in the next year – from 55% in 2014 to 49% in 2020.

Kelly Beaver, Managing Director of Ipsos Public Affairs in the UK, said:

There is real support among the public for a green economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, and climate change remains the single biggest environmental concern globally. What remains to be seen, however, is whether and how people plan to change their behaviour to combat climate change when they adjust to a new life once the Covid-19 pandemic passes.

A strong positive is that people believe that governments around the world should be acting now to avoid failing their citizens on combating climate change. Nearly six in ten would be put off from voting for a party if they didn’t take climate change seriously, sending a strong message to all political parties around the world about the importance of this topic to voters.

Please see the accompanying slide presentation.


For more information on this news release, please contact:

Mari Harris

Director and Political Analyst,
Ipsos South Africa

Mobile: +27 (0)82 557 5058

[email protected]

Ezethu Mandlelize

Service Line Manager: Public Affairs,
Ipsos South Africa

Mobile: +27 (0)74 617 8023

[email protected]


Technical note:

  • The findings come from two surveys conducted by Ipsos on the Global Advisor online platform.
  • One is a 14-country survey conducted April 16-19, 2020 among 28,029 adults aged 18-74 in Canada and the United States and 16-74 in Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia and Spain. The sample consisted of approximately 2,000+ individuals in each of the 14 countries.
  • The other is a 29-country survey conducted February 21 - March 6, 2020 among 20,590 adults aged 18-74 in the United States, Canada, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Turkey and aged 16-74 in 23 other markets. The sample for this survey included approximately 1000+ individuals in each of Australia, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland), France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Spain, Sweden, and the U.S.; and approximately 500+ individuals in each of Argentina, Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Hungary, India, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, and Turkey.
  • The precision of Ipsos online polls are calculated using a credibility interval with a poll of 1,000 accurate to +/- 3.1 percentage points and of 500 accurate to +/- 4.5 percentage points. For more information on the Ipsos use of credibility intervals, please visit the Ipsos website
  • 17 of the 29 countries surveyed online generate nationally representative samples in their countries (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and United States). Brazil, China, Chile, Colombia, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Turkey produce a national sample that is more urban & educated, and with higher incomes than their fellow citizens. We refer to these respondents as “Upper Deck Consumer Citizens”. They are not nationally representative of their country’s total population.
  • Weighting was employed in both surveys to balance demographics and ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the adult population according to the most recent country Census data, and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe.