UN study: ‘80% of people worldwide fear devastating effect climate change’

80% of the world’s population is increasingly concerned about the devastating effects of climate change and wants more action on climate. This is according to a major survey, the biggest ever standalone public opinion survey on climate change, by the UN development agency UNDP and Oxford University. The call is especially strongest in the poorest countries.

This is no coincidence. According to Oxfam, precisely those countries suffer the most from floods and drought. By 2023, for example, 8 million people had to leave their homes as a result, or twice as many climate refugees as in 2013.

More global cooperation

UNDP and Oxford University probed the views on climate among 75,000 people from 77 countries through 15 questions. These represent 87% of the world’s population.

That People’s Climate Vote 2024 now shows that 80% of the world’s population wants more action on climate. The call is particularly clear in the poorest countries (89%) but also remains high in the G20 countries (76%) and among the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, China (73%) and the United States (66%).

An even higher proportion (86%) wants countries worldwide to cooperate more to tackle climate change. More than seven in ten of those surveyed (72%) also say that work should be done to phase out fossil fuels quickly. Residents from countries where fossil fuels play an important economic role also spoke in favor. In Nigeria, for instance, 89% are in favor; in China, 80%; and in Saudi Arabia, 75%. In the United States, opinions were more divided, with 54% in favor.

Lying awake over global warming

Another seven in ten said that important life decisions, such as the choice of where to live and work, are affected by climate change. That figure is highest in the least developed countries (74%), but more than half of those living in Northern Europe (52%) and four in ten in North America (42%) also take climate change into account for such choices.

More than half of respondents (56%) also say they think about climate warming at least every week or even daily. A higher percentage among women (57%) than among men (55%) and among people over 60 (59%), who now seem to have overtaken younger people in awareness of the climate crisis.

More than half of those surveyed (53%) also say they are “more concerned than last year” about warming, while 15% say they are less concerned. The leaders in this growing climate anxiety are Fiji (80%), Afghanistan (78%), Mexico, and Turkey (77%). At the bottom are Saudi Arabia (25%), Russia (34%), the Czech Republic (36%), and China (39%).

A wind park in Kazakhstan /UNDP

‘Act now and act boldly’

“These results provide irrefutable evidence that people worldwide support vigorous climate policies,” points out Cassie Flynn, climate policy director at the UN development agency. “The next two years represent one of the best opportunities we have as an international community to ensure that warming remains below 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

“The Peoples’ Climate Vote is loud and clear. Global citizens want their leaders to transcend their differences, act now and boldly to fight the climate crisis,” says UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner. “The survey results reveal a level of consensus that is truly astonishing. We urge leaders and policymakers to note, especially as countries develop their next round of climate action pledges – or ‘nationally determined contributions’ under the Paris Agreement. This is an issue that almost everyone, everywhere, can agree on.”

Rising number of climate refugees

Recent figures from Oxfam, the organization focusing on the alleviation of global poverty, also prove that the situation is becoming urgent. According to their data, the number of recorded floods and droughts in the ten most affected countries has skyrocketed from just 24 in 2013 to 656 last year. Somalia, the Philippines, Brazil, and Malaysia were particularly hard hit.

Because of these increasing floods or major droughts, 8 million people also had to leave their homes in 2023. Sometimes, the same people had to leave their homes multiple times. This is more than twice as many people as in 2013. Several experts estimate the future number of climate refugees will be 150 million by 2050.

Today’s climate change is mainly caused by humans. According to data from Statista, global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry totaled 37.15 billion metric tons (GtCO₂) in 2022. Emissions are projected to have risen 1.1% in 2023 to reach a record high of 37.55 GtCO₂.  Since 1990, global CO₂ emissions have increased by more than 60%.

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