Yesterday, Economist.com published a story about HSBC’s Climate Confidence survey, the results of which are intriguing, if not a little surprising. The basic table of result is at right (click for full size, cribbed from HSBC’s results).
The results show that though citizens of so-called developing countries are generally thought to be more concerned about development, etc than they are about climate change, this is not borne out by the data. Rather, HSBC’s survey results show that “developing” countries have higher levels of concern than most developed countries. Whether this is due to bad information, either in the US or in Brazil, is an interesting question, but it’s not one the survey answers (or could).
HSBC has categorized their surveyed countries into four groups. The “skeptical pessimists,” those European countries surveyed, are characterized by low levels of concern for the problem, and low optimism about solving it. Americans are alone among the nine surveyed countries in both doubting that there is a problem, yet being more willing than Europeans to believe that the problem can be solved. The level of concern in India, Brazil and Mexico is far greater than that in either America or Europe, although those countries suggested great optimism about the world’s ability to solve the problem. Finally, China and Hong Kong shared relatively high levels of concern, as well as the highest level of confidence that the problem was being adequately handled.
The results are also revealing about individual countries. For example, in the USA climate change was a fourth concern, after terrorism, health care, and constantly later ages of retirement. In China, climate change was the top concern, followed by child’s future, health care, and terrorism (in that order). The difference is striking, and whether it reflects where concerns actually should be or where media and political powers want them to be is a different question.
In any case, these are fascinating results whose implications are not entirely clear. Thus, for concluding remarks, I will cede the floor to The Economist:
Perhaps it is not surprising that people in the developing world are worried. Rich countries are in the temperate parts of the globe; it is the world’s hotter, drier nations that will feel the effect of climate change first. Indeed, they may already be affected: rainfall patterns are going awry in China, and the earlier melting of Himalayan snow is damaging agricultural productivity in bits of the Indian subcontinent. Concern about climate change may also be bound up with broader environmental worries, which are mounting in China in particular.
Still, these findings certainly overturn previous assumptions about attitudes around the world. Does that matter? For those who think that governments should be taking stronger measures to avert climate change, it probably does. The interesting implications are not so much for Europe and America. People in those regions don’t think climate change is the most important problem in the world; but nor are their governments behaving as though it is.
What these data change is the debate about involving poorer countries. When developing-country governments resist pressure from Europe and America for action, they can still use the argument that climate change is mostly the rich world’s fault. But the argument that their people have other priorities for government action looks harder to sustain. Whether they choose to listen to their people’s concerns is, of course, another matter.