Trust in climate science is strong, but optimism about progress is limited: Global survey

01 Nov 2021

Linda Lacina, World Economic Forum,

  • Global public trust in climate science is rising - and has nearly doubled in some regions, according to a survey published today by the World Economic Forum.
  • When it comes to the environment, consumers held more confidence in climate science than many existing sustainability efforts from business and government leaders.
  • Respondents note renewable energy solutions among the top priorities that both world and business leaders should focus on addressing.
  • The report, The Climate Progress Survey: Business and Consumer Worries and Hopes, coincides with the global COP26 climate summit and drives home the importance of trust and collaboration for meaningful action. Read it online here.

Geneva, Switzerland, 1 November 2021 – A global study of public opinion published today by the World Economic Forum finds that while trust in climate science has surged, optimism is in shorter supply.

Most participants felt a strong personal responsibility to the environment, even as they felt businesses and governments could do more to make a difference. The majority felt that everyone should work together to tackle climate change.

The study reinforces the World Economic Forum’s message that the climate crisis will require urgent cross-sector collaboration using every mechanism available to make meaningful action possible, including policy, finance, technology and education.

The global study, prepared in collaboration with SAP and Qualtrics, asked more than 11,000 people in 28 countries about their experience with climate change. Around 70% of respondents represent the global population with the remaining 30% representing the corporate world (those working at least 40 hours per week for for-profit companies). The findings have been presented in the The Climate Progress Survey: Business and Consumer Worries and Hopes.

This research found that nearly 70% of people trust climate scientists, up from 57% in 2019, when this question was first asked. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the jump was particularly dramatic, with trust nearly doubling, from 38% in 2019 to 65% in 2021.

North Americans expressed the largest share of doubters with 16% saying they had ‘a little’ or no trust in climate science, a number that dropped from 18% in 2020.

While 50% of people were optimistic about reducing carbon emissions within the next 20 years, sentiment from market to market was more mixed. 76% in South Asia feel optimistic about progress, while around a third of the population in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and North America share a more neutral pessimism.

Importantly, 74% of respondents agree climate change is caused by humans, a number that rose from 67% in 2020. This question has been settled within climate science for some time (99% of climate research agrees that climate change is man-made) but the question remains a topic of political circles.

Most people (59%) felt their governments could do more to protect the environment and only around a fourth trusted business sustainability claims.

While only one in three people felt the environment should be prioritised over the economy, around half globally believe that the environment and economic growth should be given equal priority. The study found that renewable energy solutions are a top priority for world and business leaders to address, and increasing shares of populations across each region agreed businesses that pollute should be taxed.

The report’s findings align with other recent World Economic Forum reports that drive home a critical reality: leaders do not need to choose between the economy and the climate. For instance, the recent Future of Nature and Business Report found that prioritising nature is a $10 trillion business opportunity that could create 395 million new jobs by 2030.

Additionally, an analysis of 163 industry sectors and their supply chains in our New Nature Economy Report found that over half of the world’s GDP is moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services. Industries highly dependent on nature generate 15% of global GDP ($13 trillion).

The Climate Progress Survey coincides with COP26, a critical global climate summit held in Glasgow, Scotland. “This is a breakthrough moment for climate change. Leaders in business, government and civil society have a real opportunity and obligation to make the most of this moment to make meaningful change happen and halt the rise of global temperatures,” said Antonia Gawel, Head of Climate Action, at the World Economic Forum.

A key focus for the World Economic Forum’s 51st Annual Meeting next January is 'Working Together, Restoring Trust.' The pandemic has shown the power to accelerate change when collaboration and trust are in place, and each day of this meeting will contribute to this goal.

“No country, government, business, scientific community, or society will be able to tackle climate change alone,” said Christian Klein, CEO of SAP SE. “We all need to work together to accelerate the transformation of our economies, deal with the impacts of the climate change we have already created, and bend the curve on global emissions.”

“We believe some of the greatest challenges in the world can be identified and addressed through deeper understanding and empathy,” said Zig Serafin, CEO of Qualtrics. “Knowing what motivates people to make sustainable change is the first step to helping governments, businesses and individuals take action, address the growing climate crisis and enable the human experiences we all want.”

About the Annual Meeting 2022:
The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022 will take place on 17-21 January 2022 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. The meeting brings together approximately 3,000 global leaders from politics, government, civil society, academia, the arts and culture as well as the media. Convening under the theme, Working Together, Restoring Trust, participants will focus on public-private cooperation and its crucial role in rebuilding trust and shaping a more sustainable future. Learn more here.

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All opinions expressed are those of the author. The World Economic Forum Blog is an independent and neutral platform dedicated to generating debate around the key topics that shape global, regional and industry agendas.

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