Gallup Presents ... A Heated Debate Global Attitudes toward Climate Change

By Pugliese, Anita; Ray, Julie | Harvard International Review, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Gallup Presents ... A Heated Debate Global Attitudes toward Climate Change


Pugliese, Anita, Ray, Julie, Harvard International Review


Twelve years ago, the international community took a step toward a global emission reduction regime--the Kyoto protocol. Governments are poised to take another step at climate talks in December in Copenhagen, where some observers cautiously hope delegates will sign Kyoto's successor.

As the clock ticks down to the year-end talks, there is palpable pressure to "seal the deal" on a new climate change pact. Many observers believe this could be the last chance nations have to forge a new deal before the first phase of the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012. Should negotiations stall in December, countries may not have enough time to ratify a new agreement that ensures a smooth transition to a post-Kyoto regime.

There also appears to be a greater sense of urgency than in the past among many global climate scientists and experts, who say climate change is taking place faster than they anticipated. The Copenhagen talks, they say, could be a last chance for governments to tackle climate change to avoid the more catastrophic effects of global warming.

Within the context of the dialogue currently taking place about climate change, it is instructive to understand worldwide public opinion and attitudes about the issue. During 2007 and 2008, Gallup conducted the first comprehensive survey of global opinions about climate change, asking respondents specifically about their awareness of the issue and the extent to which they perceive climate change as a threat to themselves and their families.

Gallup surveyed a total of 206,193 residents in 128 countries, representing more than 90 percent of the world's population aged 15 and older. Each country's sample is representative of both urban and rural areas. Country data were weighted by population to provide global and regional estimates.

Gallup's major findings are that a majority of the world's adult population is aware of the climate change issue, but a substantial minority is not aware. Further, those who are aware are more likely to say climate change poses a serious threat to themselves and their families. Results did vary by region and among each of the top five green house gas-emitting countries, underscoring the challenges leaders face in reaching a global climate agreement.

Climate Change: Awareness and Knowledge

The first question--"How much do you know about global warming or climate change?"--gave respondents three choices: "I have never heard of it, I know something about it, or I know a great deal about it."

Although people's awareness of climate change and perceptions about its effects vary at the region and country levels, the overall patterns illustrate how climate change is a truly global issue. Gallup's data reveal that a majority of the world's adult population--61 percent--knows at least something about climate change or global warming. A breakdown of this 61 percent shows that half of the world (50 percent) knows "something" about the subject, while slightly more than one in ten people(l 1 percent) knows a "great deal." A sizable minority of (39 percent) has never heard of climate change or has no opinion. Because a self-report measure was used in the research, rather than a test of actual knowledge, this 39 percent may represent a conservative estimate of the world's population that is unaware of the climate change issue.

Regionally, people in Europe and the Americas (which includes North, South, and Central America) are the most likely to be aware of climate change. More than eight in ten adults in Europe and the Americas say they know at least something about climate change. In addition, these two regions have the greatest percentage of adults who report knowing a great deal about the issue.

Lower awareness is evident in the Middle East/North Africa, Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa regions. Slightly more than half of adults in the Middle East/North Africa and Asia regions report basic awareness of climate change.

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Gallup Presents ... A Heated Debate Global Attitudes toward Climate Change
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