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Hello again, I truly hope you and yours are well. I recently told some fellow jurnos that I think we’ve finally turned the corner on climate change. The challenge now is making the sweeping changes needed fast enough to address our climate emergency. The world’s largest-ever climate opinion survey reveals that people around the world want to see those changes — a fact that is not often reflected on our screens and media generally.
First, a little anecdotal insight into why progress on climate action remains slow.
“Security! Remove that reporter. I’m not going to start the press conference until he’s gone,” said Canada’s then Minister of the Environment John Baird. The well-armed, blue-jacketed United Nations Police at the back of the room hesitated not knowing what to do. It was an usual way to start a UN science conference on protecting the ozone layer.
Baird was invited to speak only because Canada was hosting the conference in Montreal. Finally a UN official had a quiet word with Baird. Stone-faced, he gave his brief talk about how his Conservative government had saved the ozone layer — or something along those lines.
Later, I had a word with that UN official. He had told Baird that this was a UN conference, and the UN was in charge and they did not kick out journalists out of press conferences before they’d even begun. He also told me that this attempt by a government official to remove a journalist from a UN meeting had never happened before. Not even in countries like Zimbabwe with dictator Robert Mugabe.
For me this was an example of arrogance by some politicians who want to control the information the public receives in order to enact their agenda. Too often those agendas are based on ideological fantasies and not reality, evidence or facts. This is what leads to the decline of societies as documented in the study When Good Governments Go Bad I referenced last time.
Do everything necessary and urgently
I raise this in context of a remarkable new survey of public opinion about climate change. The clear message from the world’s biggest ever survey on climate:
A strong majority of people in 50 countries say climate change is a global emergency.
59% of those believe we need to do “everything necessary and urgently” to respond to this emergency
The Peoples' Climate Vote involved 1.2 million people, including 550,000 between 14 and 18 years old, representing the views of more than half the world’s population. (The combined populations of the 50 countries surveyed is over 4 billion people.) The survey was conducted during the COVID-19 crisis showing people’s concern about climate impacts and their future are now deeply entrenched.
So, how many countries have declared a climate emergency in accordance with the majority opinion of its citizens? 50? 40? Surprisingly it’s 38, mainly because of the 27 countries that make up the European Union (EU). Many countries in the survey, such the United States and Russia have not. However, the US may make a declaration under the Biden White House which would be significant.
Making a climate emergency declaration is symbolic, and of some value, but ultimately meaningless without countries acting like they’re really in climate emergency. I’m not sure that any country is, or is even close. Remember 59% of those saying there is a climate emergency want their countries to “do everything necessary, urgently”. In high-income countries like the US, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy, those voting for ‘do everything’ ranged between 70% of people from the US to 78% in Italy. Overall this was the same proportion as small island states, some of which will be wiped off the maps by rising seas.
Here’s a clear Need-to-Know: A majority of citizens in high-income countries and small island states want their governments to “do everything necessary, urgently” to address the climate emergency. But no government is anywhere near doing everything necessary, urgently.
So what’s necessary?
The Peoples' Climate Vote found out what climate actions the public wants their governments to do. Among the 50 countries, actions and policies that conserve forests and land, increase renewable energy, adopt climate-friendly farming techniques and invest more in green businesses and jobs were the most popular.
The ten countries in the survey with the highest CO2 emissions expressed overwhelming support for renewable energy for electricity and heating. This includes Canada the US and Australia. And yet the levels of non-hydro, i.e. solar and wind, renewable energy to produce electricity remains extremely low: 4% in the US, 6% in Canada and 14% in Australia.
One reason the level of renewables is low is that these three countries also have a considerable number of climate deniers or climate do-nothings in governments at various levels. In some states, provinces and even at federal level — in the US no longer but still in Australia — governments do not represent the majority of their citizens on this issue. Who then are they representing? A minority of people — 25 to 30% at most — and the fossil fuel industry.
Old fossils in government out of step
Age is another factor. The majority of political leaders are older, often over 60. The survey found that people over 60 years old are significantly less likely to think we are in climate emergency than youth. The gap was particularly large in Latin American countries, averaging 20% between young and old. (i.e., 45% over 60 years old vs 66% under 18 years old in Ecuador)
No doubt there are some interesting reasons for this Lat Am generation gap but I’m not going to speculate here.
Of industrialized nations only Australia and Poland had a similar 20% gaps. Both countries have been and continue to be major coal users and exporters. That pretty much explains the gap.
In countries where you might not think climate is a major issue such as Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Georgia, more than 70% of youth said that climate change is an emergency. Arab states weren’t far behind averaging 67%.
Women and girls more likely to support urgent climate action
Gender is another factor in why countries are not doing “everything necessary, urgently” to address the climate emergency. Far fewer women are in government than men. Slightly more women than men overall believe we are in a climate emergency. However Canada had the highest gender gap with 12% more women and girls than men and boys. Australia and the US also had similar large gaps.
If political leaders needed to know the public supports sweeping and ambitious climate action then The Peoples' Climate Vote provides solid evidence for that said Cassie Flynn, Strategic Advisor on Climate Change at United Nations Development Program (UNDP). UNDP conducted the poll with the University of Oxford.
The Need-to-Know you and I can take from this poll is confirmation that the majority of our fellow citizens recognize our climate reality and want to deal with it. Keep this knowledge firmly in mind because the few climate deniers and climate do-nothings will continue to get attention by shouting their outrageous lies about job losses and economic disaster.
Until next time, stay safe
P.S. I also wrote an article on the survey for The Weather Network.