HSBC's international opinion survey into climate change

The key conclusions from a good piece of market research HSBC's July 2007 survey entitled the Climate Confidence Index contained many surprising results. Carried out in nine major countries around the world, it showed that concern about climate change is far higher in developing countries than in the UK or the USA. As importantly, the inhabitants in these countries also think that the world is more likely to find ways to avert climate change problems.

Almost 60% of people in Brazil, Mexico and India see global warming as one of the most pressing problems the world faces, compared to little more than 20% in the UK. Broadly speaking, the richer countries tend to see terrorism as a bigger threat to the world than climate change. In all nine nations bar the US, the level of concern tends to rise quite sharply with age. (This result is also seen in most other surveys of UK opinion.)

Confidence that climate change will be successfully addressed by existing institutions is low in most places around the world. It falls to its lowest level (5%) in the UK. The UK also has the lowest level of people saying that they personally are making a significant effort to reduce climate change at 19%, compared to levels above 40% in developing countries. Fatalistic Britons are also almost the most pessimistic about whether global warming will be stopped, with only 6% of people saying 'I believe we will stop climate change,' compared to 45% in India and 39% in China.

This very thoughtful survey makes depressing reading for those interested in British public opinion. The faith in UK institutions is low, commitment to personal action is limited and pessimism about the future is greater than elsewhere. Across the world, however, constructive opinion is much higher, with over 55% of people being prepared to adjust their lifestyle to help reduce changes to the climate. Interestingly, more people are prepared to change lifestyle than spend more time (45%) or money (28%) to get climate friendly products or services.It is not clear why the UK results are so different from the rest of the world but this pattern appears in other consumer polls. Cynicism and pessimism are common, particularly in younger age groups. Willingness to question the fundamental science is higher than elsewhere. A recent MORI survey showed that 56% of UK individuals think that there is substantial disagreement among scientists about whether global warming is actually happening. I believe that this is probably among the highest figures in the world, despite the UK's own scientific community being among the most united on the topic. This is a challenge to those companies, politicians and activists trying to build a more climate-friendly economy.