The Paris Climate Agreement has widespread support in both the U.S. and China, a new survey has found.
Researchers at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and The China Center for Climate Change Communication — China 4C — ran national public opinion surveys in the U.S. and China, respectively, after President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. The researchers found that the majority of Chinese and U.S. citizens believe climate change is happening and support continued participation in the agreement, albeit to varying degrees. The results were presented at the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties climate change conference in Bonn, Germany.
“What we found was that the Chinese public is much more engaged with the issue of climate change and supportive of action than Americans,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the YPCCC.
The U.S. and China are the two largest annual emitters of carbon in the world, Leiserowitz said, as well as two of the leading countries involved in the early phase of the Paris Agreement.
Due to the initial conditions of the Paris Agreement, the U.S. cannot actually exit until November 2020 — after the next presidential election, Leiserowitz said. However, Trump’s announcement has sparked both national and international debate surrounding the country and its role in combatting climate change on a global scale.
According to the survey, 77 percent of Americans responded that they believed the U.S. should remain in the Paris Agreement. However, when the survey noted that Trump planned to pull out of the agreement, only 64 percent opposed his decision. Leiserowitz attributes this primarily to Trump supporters who may not have been aware that President Trump opposed the agreement and changed their stance in response to that information.
“People who are strong partisans tend to listen to what their leaders say,” he said. “When they hear their political leaders say that climate change is a hoax, many of them think, ‘That must be the case, because that’s why I trust them.’”
The YPCCC’s overall aim is to educate the public on attitudes and opinions held by American adults on the topic of climate change, said Catherine Martini FES ’18, the YPCCC’s digital strategist. The group is responsible for the large ongoing project, Climate Change in the American Mind, a biannual report that analyzes different aspects of American attitudes toward climate change, YPCCC research affiliate Connie Roser-Renouf said.
Through that body of work, the group has found that the percentage of the population that is outright dismissive of climate change is actually relatively small, Martini said.
“The mainstream media tends to characterize climate change as either you believe in it or you don’t,” Martini said. “At the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, we believe that is a little overly simplistic.”
The study found that 71 percent of Americans believe in climate change, the highest percentage since 2008. Around that time, the rise of the Tea Party and conservative backlash to the Obama election precipitated a major shift in the Republican Party toward skepticism on the issue of climate change, Leiserowitz said. The percentage of the U.S. citizens who believe in climate change plummeted. Around the 2014 midterm elections, though, the Republican Party began to distance itself from climate change skepticism, Leiserowitz said.
“That was the beginning of what we might call a thaw in the Republican stance [on] climate change,” he added.
As a result, U.S. climate change belief figures have slowly risen back up. However, he added, 71 percent is still a relatively low number compared to 94 percent in China.
Additionally, in the U.S., a multitude of forces effectively lobby against climate change action, such as the fossil fuel industry, Leiserowitz said. Climate change is a problem that requires collective action, which fuels opposition from those who prioritize individual liberty above all else, he continued.
“So you take the financial interests of the fossil fuel industry, and you mix them with the very strong conservative anti-government ideology, and you’ve got a really powerful resistance movement,” Leiserowitz said.
That opposition doesn’t occur to the same extent in China, he said. China’s fossil fuel industry does not wield the same power as the American one, and its conservative Republican-type ideology is not nearly as popular. Additionally, China is a one-party state. As a result, Chinese citizens are more in agreement on the issue of global warming.
“China is a great example of what happens in a country without an organized resistance,” he said.
Each survey used a distinct data collection method. In the U.S., the Yale team conducted the survey online by contracting a group that maintains a nationally representative panel for survey use. In China, on the other hand, responses were collected over the phone.
Earth’s average surface temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century, largely due to increased manmade emissions into the atmosphere, according to NASA.
Maya Chandra | firstname.lastname@example.org