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Global Concern for Climate Change Dips Amid Other Environmental and Economic Concerns
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Global Concern for Climate Change Dips Amid Other Environmental and Economic Concerns

Global concern about climate change has taken a back-seat to other environmental issues such as air and water pollution, water shortages, packaging waste and use of pesticides, according to the 2011 Sustainable Efforts & Environmental Concerns report from Nielsen, which surveyed more than 25,000 Internet respondents in 51 countries.

The bi-annual report shows that while 69 percent of global online consumers say they are concerned about climate change/global warming (up from 66 percent in 2009, but down from 72 percent in 2007), concern for other environmental issues are increasingly taking a higher priority in the minds of consumers. Three out of four global consumers rated air pollution (77%) and water pollution (75%) as top concerns, both increasing six percentage points compared to 2009. The most rapidly growing area of concern among 73 percent of global online consumers surrounds the issues of pesticides, packaging waste and water shortages, with reported concern increasing 16, 14 and 13 percentage points, respectively over the last two years.

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“There are many possible reasons for declines in concern about climate change/global warming,” said Dr. Maxwell T. Boykoff, Senior Visiting Research Associate, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford. “Focus on immediate worries such as job security, local school quality, crime and economic well-being have all diminished media attention for climate stories in the past two years. In the face of other pressing concerns, a public “caring capacity” for climate change has been tested. Without continued attention paid to global warming/climate change in the media, such concerns may have faded from the collective public conscience.”

Top environmental concerns among Asia Pacific consumers include water shortages and air pollution, while water pollution was the main concern for Latin Americans, Middle Eastern/Africans, Europeans and North Americans.

Shifting Concerns Among the Big 3

With their large populations and high CO2 emissions, many consider the United States, China and India instrumental to any potential international climate change agreements. Yet, concern is falling in the U.S., which recorded one of the steepest declines (14%) in concern about climate change/global warming from 2007 to 2011.

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Today, less than half of Americans (48%) say they are concerned about climate change, which contrasts sharply with reported concern in Latin America (90%), Middle East/Africa (80%), Asia Pacific (72%), and Europe (68%). Among the 21 percent of Americans who are decidedly not concerned, 63 percent indicated they believe natural variation—and not people—causes climate change/global warming.

“During this period, Nielsen’s Global Online Consumer Confidence Survey found heightened American consumer concern around the economy, rising gas prices, and debt,” said Todd Hale, SVP Consumer & Shopper Insights, Nielsen U.S. “With financial concerns still on the minds of many Americans, they’re indicating less and less concern about climate change and other environmental issues.”

In China, concern about climate change/global warming is higher than in the U.S., but dropped 17 percent in the last two years from 77 percent in 2009 to 64 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, concern in India has gradually risen in the past four years, and with 86 percent of Indians currently worried, it remains one of the markets most concerned about climate change in the world.

For more detail and regional insights, download: 2011 Sustainable Efforts & Environmental Concerns.