Majority of global public calls for climate action in The People's Climate Vote

The climate emergency has arrived and people are demanding action, according to the world's largest public opinion survey of belief in climate change.

By Asiyah Choudry

Last Updated: May 15, 2023

Originally Published: March 30, 2021

protest sign reading "there is no planet b"

The United Nations Development Programme and the University of Oxford have released The People’s Climate Vote – a report which outlines the results of a 2020 climate change survey of 1.2 million people across 50 countries. The results highlight a clear call for government action on behalf of the global community.

Climate change is a global emergency

A central climate change statistic from this research shows that 64% of the global public across 50 countries views climate change as an emergency. This view is the most popular in the UK with 81% in support. In the US, support is closer to the global average at 65%. Of those Americans who view climate change as an emergency, 70% believe that the world must act urgently and take all necessary steps to address climate change. According to Pew Research, from 2009 to 2020 the percentage of Americans who believe that addressing global climate should be a priority for the president and congress jumped from 30% to 52%.

wind turbine farm in green rolling hills

Global support for climate policies

There is a global appetite for governments to take action to address climate issues. The report found that the four most popular climate policies worldwide are forest and land conservation (54%),
climate friendly farming (52%), and investment in green jobs and businesses (50%). The promotion of plant-based diets was a highly unpopular climate policy, and did not attract majority support in any of the countries surveyed.

Americans prioritize policies that focus on clean energy, water protection, and land conservation

Renewable energy policy is supported by some of the largest emitters. Of the ten countries with the highest heating and electricity emissions, eight support the transition to renewable energy. In the US, support for renewable energy is at 65%. As the costs of renewable energy and energy storage continue to fall, renewable energy development presents an opportunity for governments and businesses worldwide to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the electricity sector, in line with targets established by the Paris Climate Agreement.

In Western Europe and North America, conservation policies are the most popular. The two most favored policies relate to forest and land conservation (72%) and ocean and waterway conservation (70%). The ocean and waterway policy “keep the ocean and waterways healthy” was one of the most popular climate policies in the US, with 71% in favor.


Some other policies that received majority support in the US are reducing food waste (61%),  increased investment in green jobs and businesses (57%), making companies pay to pollute (57%), using more electric vehicles, bikes, and buses (56%), and reducing energy waste in homes and buildings (55%).

frozen waters breaking apart

Demographics inform attitudes towards climate change

Socio-demographics play a key role in climate change beliefs. Education has the most significant impact on individual attitudes towards climate change and climate policies worldwide. Individuals with post-secondary education were more likely to believe in a climate emergency in comparison to those with only a secondary education, with a difference of eight percentage points. The US is close to the bottom of the list – only 66% of Americans with post-secondary education believe there is a climate emergency. This number is staggeringly low when compared to countries in western Europe like Italy, France, and Spain that all have results above 80%.

The Gender Gap in Climate Beliefs

In Australia, Canada, and the US, women are more likely to believe in the climate emergency than men, however, the study found that there is a small gender gap (4%) when it comes to belief in climate change overall. In the US, there was a difference of 11 percentage points between the views of men and women. This discrepancy could be attributed to the fact that women are more vulnerable to climate issues. Data from the UN shows that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women.

Offshore wind farm

The report also found discrepancies in the attitudes of American men and women regarding certain climate policies. Only 43% of men supported the policy “stop burning fuels that pollute,” while 58% of women were in favor. While on average men were more favorable to deploying renewable energy, they did not want to stop burning fossil fuels as much as women. The fossil fuel industry is male-dominated, and the threat of job loss as part of a renewable transition might explain the lack of support among men.

Greater support for climate crisis action in younger generations

The report also found that people under the age of 18 are more likely to believe that climate change is an emergency, with 69% in support of this belief. The rest of the global population is not far behind, with a majority of individuals across all age groups believing in the climate emergency. In the US, belief in the climate emergency is higher than the global average, with 75% of under-18s in support. However, the US falls behind in comparison to Western Europe and Canada. The Sunrise Movement is an example of youth-led climate action taking place in the US.

What's next?

The climate emergency has arrived and it’s time to take steps to address it. The People’s Climate Vote, according to Achim Steiner, Administrator of the UNDP, “brings the voice of the people to the forefront of the climate debate. It signals ways in which countries can move forward with public support as we work together to tackle this enormous challenge.” There is demand for a wide range of climate change policies to improve human and environmental health and wellbeing. It’s time for governments and institutions to take action to build a more sustainable future.


Read the full report here.

climate crisis sign

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