Public Environmental Concern at ’20-Year Low’

by | Mar 1, 2013

The economic crisis and a lack of governmental leadership on green issues has driven concern about the environment among citizens around the world to 20-year lows, according to a multi-country poll by research consultancy GlobeScan.

Participants in GlobeScan Radar were asked how serious they consider each of six environmental problems: air pollution, water pollution, species loss, automobile emissions, fresh water shortages, and climate change. On five of the six, fewer people now consider the issue “very serious” than at any time since tracking began 20 years ago. Concerns have been falling since 2009, the poll shows.

Concern about air and water pollution, as well as biodiversity, is significantly below where it was even in the 1990s. Many of the sharpest falls have taken place in the past two years, the poll shows.

But despite the steep fall in environmental concern over the past three years, majorities still consider most of the environmental problems to be “very serious.” Water pollution is viewed as the most serious environmental problem among those tested, rated by 58 percent as “very serious.” Climate change is rated second least serious out of the six, with 49 percent viewing it as “very serious.”

Climate change was the only issue that did not hit a record low – concern was lower from 1998 to 2003 than it is now. But the perceived seriousness of climate change has fallen particularly sharply since the unsuccessful UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen in December 2009. Climate concern dropped first in industrialized countries, but this year’s figures show that concern has now fallen in major developing economies such as Brazil and China as well.

Scientists report that evidence of environmental damage is stronger than ever – but Globescan says its data shows that the economic crisis and a lack of political leadership mean that the public are starting to tune out.

Those who care about mobilizing public opinion on the environment need to find new messages in order to “reinvigorate a stalled debate,” Globescan says.

The findings are drawn from a survey of citizens across 22 countries. A total of 22,812 people were interviewed face-to-face or by telephone during the second half of 2012. Twelve of these countries have been regularly polled on environmental issues since 1992.

According to a poll by GlobeScan and BSR released towards the end of 2012, human rights, workers’ rights and climate change are the top three sustainability priorities for companies for 2013. Company executives said their primary challenges for climate sustainability include effectively coordinating business units throughout the value chain, establishing an effective strategy, scaling up projects globally and gaining resource commitments from senior management.

Stay Informed

Get E+E Leader Articles delivered via Newsletter right to your inbox!

Share This