This year’s COP 28 in Dubai will see leaders gather to “seize the moment”, with a stated aim to put the world on the right track for meeting the goals and ambitions of the Paris Climate Agreement.
At the heart of the meeting is the advent of a “Global Stocktake”, which will assess progress since the 2015 agreement. A mission which is made even more urgent in the wake of the recent announcement that the world is now set to breach the 1.5C limit, at least temporarily.
The science on climate change is acknowledged these days. And the world’s leaders are – at least in their public statements – committed to acting. But what about public attitudes and behaviour?
In the spirit of this report, we’ve been exploring what we can learn by looking at the climate of public opinion through the lens of different contexts and countries. Here we present our own “Global Opinion Stocktake” using our annual 26-country Earth Day survey as a guide.
The science on climate change is acknowledged. And the world’s leaders are – at least in their public statements – committed to acting. But what about public attitudes and behaviour?
#1: Businesses and governments need to act.
Otherwise they will be failing their customers, employees and future generations. Six in 10 share these sentiments, and their views are broadly consistent across countries.
#2: We – as individuals – need to play our part.
Some 70% say that, if everyone made small changes in their everyday lives, this could make a big difference in tackling climate change. Most countries reject the idea that “climate change is beyond our control, it’s too late to do anything about it”.
#3: People aren’t 100% clear about the main causes of global warming.
Greater emphasis is currently placed on products that deplete the ozone layer, rather than activities that are actually much more polluting, namely the challenges associated with industry, transport and deforestation.
#4: And we are even less clear about what will really make a difference.
Our latest Perils of Perception work gives people a list of ways that they could change their behaviours to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and their individual carbon footprint. “Living car free” ranks in 8th position, according to the global public. In reality, it’s actually the number one most impactful action they could take, out of the 13 options that were presented.
More positively, we are seeing signs of greater understanding of the issues at hand. For example, misperceptions that recycling is the most effective way we as individuals can act are less widespread than they were. It may be that the recent focus on fuel scarcity, against the backdrop of rising energy prices and the geopolitical implications of the war in Ukraine, have helped us become a little more knowledgeable on these issues.
#5: Views are by no means the same everywhere….
Take, for example the question of whether my country’s government “has a clear plan in place for how government, businesses and people themselves are going to work together to tackle climate change”. Scepticism reigns in the US, Belgium, Argentina, Hungary, and Japan. Five very different countries, in different parts of the world, and each with a different history when it comes to governance systems and political culture. The prevailing mood in India, Singapore and Indonesia could not be more different.
#6: Messages may need to be tailored to a particular context.
When we ask people “what would encourage you to take more action?”, we see some interesting nuances by country. “Seeing friends, family and neighbors/neighbours making changes to their behavior/behaviour” is singled out by 24% on average globally, but this rises to 36% in South Africa and 34% in Turkey. Similarly, “seeing the impact of climate-driven weather events in other countries around the world” is ranked number 4 across the 26 countries surveyed, but joint #1 in Japan. Meanwhile, “seeing the impact of climate-driven weather-events in my country” is one of the top motivations for taking action in Australia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, as well as Japan. A reminder that, in many parts of the world, the impacts of climate change are now increasingly real and visible. (See our chapter on cultural transferability for more on how the language and context of ESG varies by country).
#7: Concern and focus appears to be slipping.
As we note at the outset, people feel there is an imperative to act, but there’s less urgency than a year ago. We see 10-point falls in the proportions of people saying “if governments/businesses/individuals don’t act now they will be letting everyone down” pretty much across the board.
In many parts of the world, the impacts of climate change are now increasingly real and visible.
An additional note of caution comes from our review of the country-level data for five of the world’s biggest and/or richest economies, who therefore contribute to a significant proportion of harmful emissions. The US, Germany, Switzerland, South Korea, and Japan consistently lie at the lower end of the spectrum when it comes to how important it is for a collective effort to be happening right now.
#8: But we can still do this, can’t we?
This sense that, given all the other pressures that governments, business and society are currently facing, we can afford to take our foot off the accelerator, is clearly concerning. But there is at least acknowledgment that those who are most responsible should pay, that everyone taking action can make a difference and that it will require us all to pull together. One of the biggest areas of consensus is this shared sense among the public that all countries need to collaborate if we are to fully tackle climate change (Figure 14).
But one of the biggest questions arising from our Stocktake comes from the question of whether some countries are being asked to sacrifice too much when it comes to tackling climate change. Our review just covers the public opinion data but, as Figure 15 shows, it is difficult to identify simple patterns such as more developed economies having one perspective and emerging markets having another. Take Sweden, for example. It’s a country that is seen as a leader when it comes to renewable energy, but which has also been criticised for new policies that are projected to raise emissions in the run-up to 2030.
As they prepare for the Dubai COP summit, our leaders may wish to take solace and even inspiration from one 35-year journey the world has been through. The impact of a depleting ozone layer has been almost totally reversed since the Montreal Protocol was signed in 1987. With concerted action, over a period of time, it shows that we – government, businesses and individuals – can turn things around.
Table of contents
- ESG across borders: the cultural context
- "Sustainability": All on the same page?
- Equality Kaleidoscope
- The climate of climate change opinion
- Applying cultural transferability analysis to ESG
- ESG across borders: United States of America
- ESG across borders: India
- ESG across borders: Brazil
- ESG across borders: South Africa
- ESG across borders: China
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