• Globally 4 in 5 people see action on climate change as a priority for leaders to address, a survey shows.
  • A third of respondents think the environment should be prioritized over the economy.
  • Almost 80% of those surveyed think polluters should pay for their pollution through additional taxes.
  • Air pollution and renewable energy solutions are the key climate-related issues policymakers should focus on.

Fear of losing public support has left many policymakers and business leaders reluctant to implement sustainability changes, but many people want leaders to go further, a new study shows.

A recent joint survey by the World Economic Forum, SAP and Qualtrics found 59% of global respondents think governments are doing too little to protect the environment.

While four out of five people surveyed agreed that working together to combat climate change should be a priority, opinions differed between regions about the role of policymakers.

How people around the world feel about the laws and regulations to protect the environment.
Most respondents in a new survey think policymakers should do more to combat climate change.
Image: SAP Qualtrics

More than three quarters of those surveyed in Sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe & Central Asia thought current laws and regulations to protect the environment were insufficient.

However, this was in stark contrast to regions like South Asia, East Asia & the Pacific and Middle East & North Africa, where 41% of respondents said environmental protection policy measures in their countries were “too much”.

Climate changing priorities

Globally, more than a third of those taking part in the survey thought the environment should be prioritized over the economy, even if it slows business down. Support for an environment-first approach was highest in regions like the Middle East & North Africa (41%), Western Europe and South Asia (both at 38%).

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum's Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.

Contact us to get involved.

Climate vs Economy Prioritization
More than a third of survey respondents would prioritize the environment over the economy.
Image: SAP Qualtrics

Western Europe, together with North America, also showed high levels of support for the counter-view. In both regions, one fifth of those surveyed were in favor of prioritizing economic growth over the environment, even if the environment suffered as a result.

Support for 'polluter pays' taxes

There was more of a consensus about policies directed at making polluters accountable for the emissions they generate.

Tax on Business Pollution
A polluter pays approach to taxation is popular, a new survey shows.
Image: SAP Qualtrics

The survey found overwhelming global support for levying environmental taxes on businesses that pollute. Almost four in five people were either strongly or somewhat in favor of adopting a polluter pays approach to emissions.

North America and Sub-Saharan Africa showed significantly higher levels of opposition to policies that tax heavy-emitting companies than respondents in the Middle East, Latin America and South Asia.

The most important sustainability issues

Researchers surveyed more than 11,500 respondents across 28 countries in eight regions of the world, made up of 70% general consumers and 30% corporate representatives.

The findings showed that renewable energy solutions and air pollution were the two key climate related concerns that people thought leaders should address — both issues were important to more than half of those surveyed.


Regionally, respondents in Eastern Europe & Central Asia were notably more concerned about air pollution levels than other regions. The focus on renewable energy sources was more evenly spread, with sub-Saharan Africa showing the most support of any region.

Concerns about resource scarcity peaked at 32% of respondents in Latin America & Caribbean, while natural disasters were of highest concern to people in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Other key areas people are concerned about include: climate-smart agriculture, mitigating biodiversity loss and the impact on people’s everyday lives of reaching climate targets.

These are some of the issues addressed by the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact Summit, hosted alongside the UN General Assembly. The summit brings together global leaders to help address Sustainable Development Goals.