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Activists hold a demonstration marking the delayed COP26 U.N. climate negotiations on November 13, 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland, (Photo: Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images)

Climate activists demonstrate in Glasglow, Scotland—which will host the COP26 United Nations Climate Conference in November 2021—on November 13, 2020. (Photo: Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images)

'The Time Is Now': Survey Finds Overwhelming International Support for Greater Environmental Protection Ahead of UN Climate Conference

"We face huge challenges protecting the environment, but global public opinion may no longer be chief among them."

Brett Wilkins

An international survey conducted by the University of Cambridge and YouGov ahead of this November's COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference, and published on Monday, found overwhelming support around the world for governments taking more robust action to protect the environment amid the worsening climate crisis. 

The pollsters surveyed 14,627 adults in seven countries—Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. According to Cambridge University:

Participants were randomly assigned to read either one of four 'treatment' texts about climate change—drafted to reflect current U.N. messaging, public health, social norms, and patriotism—or a neutral text, unrelated to climate and used to test "baseline" support. The participants were then asked if they agreed or disagreed with the statement that "all national governments should do more to protect the environment."

In all of the countries except the U.S., at least 90% of baseline respondents agreed with the statement. In the U.S., the figure was 79%.

"Compared to the baseline, exposure to one of the climate change texts led to a small but significant rise of about one or two percentage points on average," wrote University of Cambridge political psychologist Lee de-Wit. "The figures ranged in the U.K. from 89-93%; as against 96-98% in Brazil, 91-95% in China, 92-97% in India, 99-100% in Indonesia, 91-94% in Poland, and 76-79% in the USA."

In the U.S., the survey found tremendous differences between people who voted for former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election—only 55% of whom said governments should do more to protect the environment—and those who elected President Joe Biden, 95% of whom agreed that governments should make more of an effort to safeguard the environment.

When asked to choose from a list of specific actions governments can take to better protect the environment, the most popular choice among survey respondents was "to protect and preserve" wildlife, marine life, and plants; followed by a policy "to plant more trees to absorb the gases that cause climate change"; thirtythen spending more on developing clean technologies; and finally reducing "the production over 30 years of the gases that cause climate change."

On average, 58% of survey respondents also agreed that businesses should be forced "to pay for the damage they do when their activities contribute to climate change." 

De-Wit wrote that "we live in a time of polarization, and environmental issues have long embodied the political divisions in society."

"However, this may be changing," he wrote. "We can see an overwhelming consensus emerging for greater government-led action to protect the environment in major nations."

"As we approach COP26, politicians the world over should take confidence from these findings," added de-Wit. "Voters across party lines want to see more government action. The time is now."

"We face huge challenges protecting the environment, but global public opinion may no longer be chief among them," concluded de-Wit.

The COP26 conference—which was delayed a year due to the coronavirus pandemic—will take place in Glasgow, Scotland November 1-12.

A U.N. report released last week revealed the world is far from meeting the emission-reduction goals of the Paris climate agreement, with scientists warning that accomplishing the accord's target of a maximum global temperature rise of 1.5°C requires cutting planet-heating emissions 45% by 2030 from 2010 levels.


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