Global concern over climate change no longer tops the list of environmental issues people are most worried about, with air and water pollution, water shortages, packaging waste and the use of pesticides now taking centre stage as major environmental issues for countries and regions, according to a new online survey carried out by Nielsen.
The Sustainable Efforts & Environmental Concerns Around the World Survey, carried out in March and April 2011, polled more than 25,000 online consumers in 51 countries throughout Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and North America.
Nielson said water pollution was the main sustainability concern for Latin Americans, Middle Eastern/Africans, Europeans and North Americans, while the top environmental concerns for Asia-Pacific consumers included water shortages and air pollution.
The bi-annual report indicated that while 69pc of global online consumers say they are concerned about climate change/global warming (up from 66pc in 2009, but down from 72pc in 2007), concerns about other environmental issues are increasingly becoming a higher priority.
For instance, three out of four global Nielsen consumers rated air pollution (77pc) and water pollution (75pc) as top concerns, both increasing six percentage points compared to the 2009 report.
The most rapidly growing area of concern among 73pc of respondents centred around issues of pesticides, packaging waste and water shortages, with reported concern increasing 16, 14 and 13 percentage points, respectively over the past two years, said Nielsen.
"There are many possible reasons for declines in concern about climate change/global warming," according to Dr Maxwell Boykoff, a senior visiting research associate at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford.
Climate change/global warming concern increased 10 points in Europe to 68pc, while it fell three points in Asia Pacific to 72pc, and North America was the least concerned region with a two point decline to 50pc.
Among the countries most concerned about climate change are island-nations and other countries with a high percentage of coastal borders.
In many of these countries, the percentage of consumers concerned about climate change almost reaches 100, including Thailand and Portugal (93pc), Indonesia (92pc), Philippines and Vietnam (91pc), Malaysia (90pc), Greece (89pc), Taiwan (88pc), and Singapore (84pc).
Latin America – most concerned region
Regionally, Latin Americans remain the most concerned about climate change/global warming, at 90pc up from 85pc in 2009, while Middle East/Africa consumers posted the highest increase as concern grew from 69 to 80pc in the two-year span.
"Latin America has experienced a number of distressing and impactful environmental events over the last several years, and the region’s consumers are increasingly attributing these events to broad climate change," said Arturo García, president, Nielsen Latin America.
"People are expressing clear concern about unusual weather patterns including increased rainfall, hurricanes, and floods in some parts of Latin America, and severe droughts in others."
As for the sharp rise in concern in the Middle East/Africa, Ram Mohan Rao, managing director, Nielsen Egypt, said that the hot and dry climates in many Middle Eastern and African countries and the widely held perception that temperatures are rising every summer has most likely led to an increased concern about climate change and weather variation there.
Thailand, Portugal and Mexico – most concerned countries about climate change
The report indicated that Thailand, Mexico, and Portugal were the world’s most concerned countries about climate change, with 93pc of respondents from each market indicating concern.
Portugal and Mexico were also the world’s most concerned countries about water shortages and air and water pollution.
“In Portugal, severe weather patterns of extreme and uncharacteristic heat waves in the summer and snow in the winter over the past few years have heightened consumer concern and awareness over global warming and climate change issues," said Luís Bio of Nielsen Portugal.
Since 2009, concern increased the most in the Ukraine (+27 percentage points), Portugal and Israel (+26), Sweden (+22) and Saudi Arabia (+18).
Is climate change concern fading from the public conscience?
Boykoff said that a focus on more "immediate worries" such as job security, local school quality, crime and economic well-being have all lowered media attention for climate stories in the past two years.
“In the face of other pressing concerns, a public ‘caring capacity’ for climate change has been tested. Without continued attention paid to global warming/climate change in the media, such concerns may have faded from the collective public conscience."
Changing concerns among the ‘Big 3’ – US, China and India
Because of their large populations and high CO2 emissions, many consider the US, China and India instrumental to any potential international climate change agreements, but the Nielsen survey points to how concern is falling in the US, which recorded one of the steepest declines (14pc) in concern about climate change/global warming from 2007 to 2011.
According to the survey, today less than half of Americans (48pc) say they are concerned about climate change. This is in stark contrasts to reported concern in Latin America (90pc), Middle East/Africa (80pc), Asia Pacific (72pc), and Europe (68pc).
Perception that natural variation causes climate change …
Interestingly, among the 21pc of US citizens who are not concerned about climate change, 63pc indicated they believe natural variation – and not people – causes climate change/global warming, reported Nielsen.
Todd Hale, senior vice-president, Consumer & Shopper Insights, Nielsen US, said increased consumer concern around the economy, rising gas prices and debt was the reason for the diminished concern about climate change
“With financial concerns still on the minds of many Americans, they’re indicating less and less concern about climate change and other environmental issues."
Meanwhile, In China, concern about climate change/global warming is higher than in the US but dropped 17pc in the last two years from 77pc in 2009 to 64pc in 2011.
Concern in India about climate change has gradually risen in the past four years, with 86pc of Indians currently worried.
India remains one of the markets most concerned about climate change in the world, added Nielsen.