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People Are Smarter Than Governments About Climate Change

Although negotiations on a draft text for December’s Paris climate talks have stalled, with very little of the 89-page document having been pared, and calls for the UN climate secretariat to winnow it further increasing, the results are in for the largest ever citizen consultation on climate change. More than 100 partners in the World Wide Views Alliance took part in this massive exercise.

Nations participating in World Wide Views (climateandenergy.wwviews.org)

A body of 10,000 participants has confirmed that world citizens mainly think alike about climate change. Often, their thoughts do not mirror the stated (at times stubbornly so) positions of their governments. On balance, people show more common sense and concern with international good than their elected or appointed representatives and central governments.

The results also defy political posturing: citizens of developed and developing countries mostly concur, as do people from the largely industrialized northern hemisphere and the developing south. Few welcome the negative effects of climate change, nearly two-thirds want to see politicians do “whatever it takes” to tackle climate change, and most (about 9 out of 10) express a desire for a carbon tax to mitigate and aid in adaptation to the situation.

World Wide Views process (climateandenergy.wwviews.org)

The debate and citizen consultation took place on a single day (last Saturday) in 75 countries to coincide with the Bonn meeting of the UN Framework on Climate Change Conference. It comprised a collaboration among the secretariat of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, Missions Publiques, the French National Commission for Public Debate, and the Danish Board of Technology Foundation on Article 6 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Participants received information about climate change and the different views under negotiation before the event began. They participated in group discussion, and they voted individually. World Wide Views chose 10,000 people to participate, carefully selecting with an eye to demographic representation and coming from cross-sections of society in 79 countries. With such ground rules, organizers view the results as more honest and trustworthy than a simple poll, survey instrument, or campaign.

The day started in Fiji in the Pacific and wrapped around the world to end in Arizona. Participants explored five key areas:

  • The importance of tackling climate change,
  • Tools to tackle climate change,
  • UN negotiations and national commitments,
  • Fairness and distribution of efforts, and
  • Making and keeping climate promises.

To see the initial results, visit the project’s home page. Following today’s summary, the results and deeper analysis will be presented at several other key meetings over the coming six months.

Bjørn Bedsted, Global Coordinator of World Wide Views (UNFCCC screenshot)

Bjørn Bedsted, Global Coordinator of World Wide Views (UNFCCC screenshot)

Bjørn Bedsted from the Danish Board of Technology, who is Global Coordinator of World Wide Views, opened his commentary today by announcing “a significant convergence between the views of people in developed and developing countries.” He went on to reveal that close to three-quarters of participants say climate action will boost their quality of life, presumably by reducing lifestyle gaps and rapidly spreading life-changing technology, especially in communications and electric power. Not surprisingly, the view prevailed most strongly among African nations, collectively the poorest on earth.

Also, a vast majority of world citizens back formation of a long-term goal by the new United Nations agreement in Paris at the end of the year. Well over 90% say the new treaty should have a long-term goal of zero emissions by the end of the century, validating the recent G7 conclusion. Fully two-thirds say the goal should be legally binding for all countries, versus 17% believing this should only apply to developed and emerging nations. Only 10% said the long-term goal should be voluntary.

This conclusion challenges the often-argued point that poorer countries deserve special exemptions in the INDC process. However, in a related question—whether high-income countries should pay more than the $100 billion annually by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation in low-income countries, as agreed in the terms of the Global Climate Fund—78% said yes, indicating support for the concept of common but differentiated responsibility, as recognized in Lima.

Unselfishness trumps nationalism. When asked if their own countries should act on climate change even if other nations do not, citizens strongly (79%) support even unilateral action. Almost half say fossil fuel exploration should be completely halted.

The vast majority of citizens (85%) say the private sector has a responsibility to participate in climate action. Broken down, 53% call for the private sector to contribute half or more of the effort. Only a third say it can contribute in a smaller part.

The two top instruments people thought most relevant to reduce levels of greenhouse gas emissions were first, education programs on climate for a broader public (77%), and second, protection of tropical forests. (Reinforcing the latter choice is the thankfully swift consensus achieved by ADP on REDD+ forest action, compared with its inability to focus on other issues.)

Says Christiana Figueres, chief executive of the UNFCCC:

WWV logo“Many cities, companies and NGOs are voicing their support for a transformational agreement in Paris. The view of citizens is also crystal clear—they see the threats and they see the opportunities. The vast majority want action now, and they want action that is sustained over the long term to bend the emissions down to zero by the end of the century, along with support for developing countries for their efforts.”

 
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Written By

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year's COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."

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