The contrast between developed and developing countries was striking: In North America, Europe and Japan, more than 90 percent of the public is aware of climate change. But in many developing countries relatively few are aware of the issue, although many do report having observed changes in local weather patterns.
The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change
on July 27.
“Overall, we find that about 40 percent of adults worldwide have never heard of climate change,” said co-author Anthony Leiserowitz
, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and study lead. “This rises to more than 65 percent in some developing countries, like Egypt, Bangladesh and India.”
The research team also found that globally, education level tends to be the single strongest predictor of public awareness of climate change. However, the research reveals some stark differences between countries. In the United States, the key predictors of awareness are civic engagement, communication access, and education. Meanwhile in China, climate change awareness is most closely associated with education, proximity to urban areas, and household income.
“This the first and only truly global study where we have climate change opinion data from over 100 countries, so it allows us to compare the findings across the world,” said lead author Tien Ming Lee
, a Princeton University researcher who conducted the analysis while at the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, at the Earth Institute, Columbia University.
Prior studies have found that American views are also strongly affected by partisan politics. But American politics doesn’t map to most other countries and there is little global data on political ideology to compare to, the researchers said.
Assessing the risks is another matter. Looking at just the respondents who were aware of climate change, the researchers examined who perceives climate change as a serious threat to themselves and their own family. Globally, they found a pattern opposite that of awareness — people in most developing countries perceived climate change as a much greater threat than people in developed countries.