A report detailing Canadian and US public opinion on climate change and based on the results of two national surveys was released Wednesday by the Public Policy Forum and Sustainable Prosperity (full report here, pdf).

The big takeaways:

  • Far more Canadians than Americans believe climate change is real (80 percent vs. 58 percent).
  • Canadians, unlike their US counterparts, see clear government responsibility in addressing climate change (65 percent vs. 43 percent).
  • And unlike the bulk of Americans, Canadians are willing to pay for global warming solutions (twice as many Canadians as Americans support both a cap-and-trade system for industry and the idea of paying a carbon tax of up to $50 a month).

Support for Climate Policies in the US and Canada—and Willingness to Pay

Note: Support levels represent the percentage of respondents who indicated that they either “strongly supported” or “somewhat supported” the policy option.

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  • More takeaways (much of this we already knew—but a side by side comparison between our two nations is interesting):

    • In the United States an individual’s partisan affiliation is the most important determinant of their views on the existence of global warming, with Democrats significantly more likely than Republicans to believe that the climate is changing.
    • Partisan affiliation is also associated with individual views on global warming in Canada, with Conservative Party supporters significantly less likely than supporters of all other parties to believe the earth is warming.
    • Americans remain highly divided on claims that scientists are manipulating climate research for their own interests, with most Canadians rejecting such claims.

    And some more details of note.
    As mentioned above, Canadians outpace Americans in their belief that climate change is real—and the gap is pretty significant. In Canada, 80 percent believe the science behind climate change, compared with 58 percent in the United States, based on answers to the surveys’ question: “From what you’ve read and heard, is there solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past four decades?”

    One slightly promising finding vis-à-vis trends in American public opinion: After experiencing significant declines in the level of belief that global warming is occurring between the fall of 2008 and spring of 2010, American belief rebounded slightly in late 2010, but remained well below the levels observed in 2008. Still, the Canadians put their American neighbors to shame on this one!

    What’s more, the report shines a spotlight on a significant cultural difference between the two neighboring countries, namely, a different relationship with and set of expectations for government.

    Just 43 per cent of Americans believe their national government has a great deal of responsibility to address climate change. In Canada, 65 per cent of respondents believe the government has a role to play.

    In fact, the poll suggests Canadians want to see all levels of government—from Parliament Hill to provincial capitals to city hall—do something about climate change.

    Interestingly, while Canadians place the primary responsibility for addressing global warming on the federal government, the report shows that a majority of both Canadians and Americans believe that state and local governments also share responsibility for addressing this problem.

    But unlike Americans, says Alex Wood of Sustainable Prosperity, a research and policy network at the University of Ottawa, Canadians are willing to pay for it. “They believe carbon pricing is part of the necessary policy and they’re not scared of it,” Wood told the CBC.

    And, as I mentioned above, the surveys show about twice as many Canadians as Americans support both a cap-and-trade system for industry and the idea of paying a carbon tax of up to $50 a month, (although, to be fair, some Americans do say they would be willing to contribute something … especially to the development of renewable energy). Canadians are significantly less likely than Americans to indicate that they are not prepared to pay anything each year for the development of more renewable energy, and more likely to express a willingness to pay higher levels for increasing the availability of alternative energy sources:

    Between 2008 and 2010, and corresponding with adverse economic conditions in the global economy, the NSAPOCC tracked a decline in willingness to pay for renewable energy development. While most Americans indicated that they would be willing to contribute at least something to promote the development of renewable energy, the overall financial commitment levels has fallen in each of the three NSAPOCC studies, with 4 out of 10 Americans in 2010 indicating that they would not be willing to pay anything for greater production of renewable energy.

    (NSAPOCC is National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change, on which this report is based along with the National Survey of Canadian Public Opinion.)

    As the CBC reports, the Harper government has said it won’t set up a cap-and-trade system without the United States, but Alex Wood thinks the polling numbers from Canadians clearly show Ottawa should reconsider.

    Table courtesy: Public Policy Forum and Sustainable Prosperity.