When world leaders get together in Copenhagen, Denmark, next week to discuss climate change, they will be addressing a concern that, as the latest Pew Global Attitudes survey finds, is widely shared throughout much of the world. And all eyes will be on Barack Obama. Around the world there are high hopes that he will “get the U.S. to take significant measures to control global climate change.”
The Pew survey (conducted May 18 to June 16) found that majorities in 23 of 25 countries agree that protecting the environment should be given priority, even at the cost of slower economic growth and job losses. And many are willing to make sacrifices, such as having to pay higher prices, to address global warming.
But, sadly, concern about climate change is much less pervasive in the United States, China and Russia than among other leading nations. Canada’s public opinion trails behind most of the industrialized world as well.
And in the United States, the issue seems to be far more partisan than in other western countries.
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Just 44 percent in the United States and Russia, and even fewer in China (30 percent), consider global warming to be a very serious problem. By comparison, 68 percent in France, 65 percent in Japan, 61 percent in Spain and 60 percent in Germany say it’s very serious.
As we’ve seen before, Americans’ views of global warming divide along ideological lines—liberals are more than twice as likely as conservatives to say global warming is a very serious problem (66 percent vs. 30 percent). Surveys from 2008 and 2009 suggest that an ideological divide is also evident in Britain, where 66 percent of those on the political left rate global warming as very serious, compared with 42 percent of those on the right. A smaller ideological split was found in Germany, France and Spain.
According to the Pew report, “while there is agreement around the world that climate change is a serious problem, there is much less international consensus as to which country is most trusted to do the right thing on this issue.” That said, expectations are high for President Barack Obama’s approach to climate change, with majorities or pluralities in 21 of the 25 countries surveyed who believe Obama will “get the U.S. to take significant measures to control global climate change.”
Expectations are especially high in Western Europe.