Efforts to combat climate change rise in China as public awareness drops

By Coco Liu | 11/06/2015 08:48 AM EST

HONG KONG — As Chinese officials are gearing up for the next round of international climate change negotiations in Paris next month, a new survey has found fewer people in the country are concerned about global warming.

The survey, issued yesterday by Washington, D.C.-based think tank the Pew Research Center, shows that 18 percent of respondents in China say climate change is a "very serious problem," much lower than the global average of 54 percent. Similarly, while 40 percent of people around the world are very worried that global warming will harm them personally, just 15 percent in China share that fear.

The survey also points out a shift in attitudes toward climate change among Chinese citizens. In China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, 19 percent of participants this year said climate change is not much of a problem, compared with 6 percent in a poll taken five years ago.

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At the same time, the number of people in China who view climate change as a very serious problem was down by 23 percentage points versus the 2010 results.

The researchers did not explain the reasons behind this change but noted that double-digit decreases also occurred in a number of other large carbon-emitting countries, including South Korea, Japan and Russia.

On the other hand, France and the United States have seen modest but notable increases in public concern about climate change since 2010, with rises of 10 percentage points and 8 percentage points, respectively.

The new report is based on surveys of more than 45,000 adults across some 40 countries. According to researchers, overall, people in countries with high levels of carbon dioxide emissions per capita tend to express less anxiety about climate change than those in nations with lower per-capita emissions.

For instance, respondents in the United States, with the highest per-capita carbon emissions among the nations surveyed, are among the least concerned about climate change and its potential impact. The polling shows 45 percent of Americans believe climate change poses a very serious threat. By contrast, that figure is 79 percent in Burkina Faso, 77 percent in Chile and 72 percent in the Philippines.

Majorities in most nations support global agreement

The researchers say the good news is that majorities in all the surveyed nations except Pakistan support their country signing an international agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Even in China and the United States, where overall concern about adverse effects of a changing climate is less intense, public support for emissions reduction is quite strong.

Besides that, some environmentalists say, even though climate change is not high on the agenda of average Chinese, there is no need to worry.

"What matters is that China will act on coal consumption decisively and with strong public support," explained Li Shuo, Greenpeace’s China climate policy adviser. He said that the toxic smog that has enveloped Beijing, Shanghai and many other Chinese cities over the past years has become one of the biggest concerns in the country.

"There is no solution to air pollution without tackling coal. Strong action on coal delivers climate benefits," Li said.

In 2014, China’s coal consumption dropped by 2.9 percent from the 2013 level, the first decline this century. Statistics from the China National Coal Association show that the shrinking trend has continued into this year, with 142 million tons less coal being sold by domestic producers during the first half-year of 2015 against one year ago. Meanwhile, the country’s coal imports fell year over year by about 60 million tons.