Intense concern about climate change is increasing among people in several major economies, according to a survey released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center that found that 72 percent of those polled were worried climate change will harm them personally at some point in their lifetime.
The survey included more than 16,000 people across North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region and represented people’s views of the threat of climate change, their willingness to make personal sacrifices to address it and their perceptions of international efforts to curb global warming.
The poll was conducted in the spring but its release comes after a series of extreme weather events — ranging from devastating floods in Germany, China and the United States to sweltering heat waves across the Northern Hemisphere — plagued multiple continents in recent months.
Most countries saw a sharp increase in those who said they are “very concerned” that climate change will affect them personally in their lifetime.
In Germany, for instance, 18 percent of people expressed being “very concerned” in 2015, compared to 37 percent this year. Australia saw a comparable uptick, with 34 percent of people saying they are “very concerned” about climate change, a 16-point increase over 2015.
Only Japan saw a significant decline in those who are very concerned about climate change. Pew researchers found an 8-point decrease, to 26 percent, over 2015.
In the U.S., these views didn’t change significantly since 2015, they said.
Public concern about climate change will be a key driver of negotiations among nations at the upcoming U.N. Climate Change Conference in November, where world leaders are expected to set aggressive emissions targets to combat global warming in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
The Pew report found that 80 percent of people polled were willing to make changes in how they live and work to help reduce the impacts of climate change. Reviews of current efforts were more mixed, however, with only 56 percent of people responding that society is doing a “very” or “somewhat good” job of dealing with global warming.
The survey also found ideological differences in people’s willingness to make personal sacrifices to address climate change. Those on the left were generally more willing to adjust their lifestyle to reduce the impacts of global warming, with 94 percent of those who identify with the ideological left in the U.S. saying they would be willing to make “some” or “a lot of” changes to how they work and live, compared to 45 percent who identify with the ideological right.
Similar differences were found in Australia, Canada, Germany and the Netherlands, though the biggest ideological gap was among people in the U.S.
The survey respondents spanned the U.S., Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.
In the study, younger people tended to be more concerned about global warming compared to older adults. In the U.S., 71 percent of people ages 18 to 29 were “very” or “somewhat concerned” that climate change would affect them personally in their lifetime, compared with 52 percent of those who were 65 and older.
Similar differences between age groups were found in Australia, New Zealand, France and Canada. The widest age gap was found in Sweden, where 65 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds expressed concern about being personally impacted by climate change, compared to just 25 percent of adults 65 and older.
Youth activists have led climate protests around the world and have pushed leaders to take more aggressive action to combat global warming. But while young people are an integral part of the solution, they are also among those most affected by climate change.
A separate preprint study under review by the journal Lancet Planetary Health linked government inaction on climate change to psychological distress and climate anxiety in young people. In that survey, which involved 10,000 children and young people across 10 countries, 74 percent of the respondents said they believe that “the future is frightening.”
Forty-five percent of young people in the study said climate anxiety and distress are affecting their daily lives and functioning, and almost two-thirds of the respondents said governments are not doing enough to protect them from climate change.
“It’s shocking to hear how so many young people from around the world feel betrayed by those who are supposed to protect them,” Liz Marks, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom and co-lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Now is the time to face the truth, listen to young people, and take urgent action against climate change.”
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