Interview: Professor Stephen Fisher, University of Oxford: The G20 Peoples' Climate Vote

Datum: 29.10.2021

Interview with Professor Stephen Fisher, University of Oxford, author of the study

The actions that G20 governments take to tackle the climate crisis will be critical to the future of the planet. In the run-up to the G20 Summit in Rome, and ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, the UN Development Programme and the University of Oxford have published the „G20 Peoples´ Climate Vote“, a huge G20 survey of public opinion on climate change. As part of this survey, over 689,000 people in 18 G20 countries were interviewed between October 2020 and June 2021. This includes over 302,000 young people under the age of 18. It uses an innovative survey method involving mobile gaming networks.

miterago: Professor Fisher, thank you very much for answering some questions about this study for the sustainability portal miterago! The G20 countries are responsible for about 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions. If you look at the results of the „Climate Transparency Report 2021“ you can see that, except for the UK, the G20 countries are not on a path to match the Paris Climate Agreement. But as your study shows, the majority of citizens in the G20 countries want something different. Were you surprised by this level of concern and the very clear vote for more climate action?

Professor Fisher: Like you said, I think our findings show very clearly that people across all G20 countries believe we are in a climate emergency. There have been some previous surveys suggesting substantial belief in and concern about climate change for several of the G20 countries. Even a few asked whether people consider climate change to be a global emergency. Therefore, the results in some of the richer, and more frequently polled, countries, such as the US and UK, were not a surprise. But it was far from clear that all 18 G20 countries we surveyed would have a majority recognising climate change as a global emergency.

miterago: As early as the 1990s, institutions advising the government in Germany pointed out the danger of a global climate crisis and called for countermeasures. But it was not until the FridaysForFuture movement, in which the younger generation demonstrated regularly around the world, that the crisis received the necessary public attention. How do you explain the fact that - also in Germany - fewer people over the age of 60 see the dangers of the climate crisis than do the younger generations?

Professor Fisher: Considering previous survey research on climate attitudes that generally shows similar generation gaps, it is not surprising that younger people are more likely to view climate change as a global emergency. Some, but not much, of the generation gap can be explained by the fact that the 60+ generation typically had much lower levels of education than younger adults. Also, under-18s are now often taught about climate change in school. But how much these things really explain the generation gap is unclear. In rich countries at least, the 60+ year old generation tends to consume more news and climate change has been a known problem for several decades. So, the 60+ year olds, along with everyone else in rich countries, should know enough about climate change by now to know that it is a serious problem.

miterago: In the past, politicians have always promised a lot for climate protection and done little, especially in Germany. Do you have hope that - also under the impression of this study - finally enough will be done to avert the worst consequences of climate change?

Professor Fisher: I sincerely hope so. 65% of adults and 70% of under-18s in G20 countries see climate change as a global emergency. This is the vast majority of people and I hope insights from our report can guide policymakers to implement the kinds of climate policies that are supported by people in their country. We published the results of our study just before the G20 Summit in Rome and the UN Climate Conference COP26 in Glasgow because conversations will be focused on how governments can deliver on the popular support for bolder climate action.

miterago: Are there plans to conduct these surveys on a regular basis? Also to maintain public pressure on those with political responsibility?

Professor Fisher: I hope that we will be able to conduct further surveys in the future, because I think they are helpful contributions to the public debate and policy-making process. The Peoples´ Climate Vote is an initiative from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that is all about bringing the voices of people around the world to the attention of governments and climate policy makers. To that extent the aim is to better inform, rather than pressure, those with political responsibility. With this week´s G20 report the Peoplesxx Climate Vote gave more nuanced insights into country-specific findings and highlighted the opinions of young people, which are rarely polled. With more surveys, we hope to eventually be able to track how public opinion changes over time and learn even more.

miterago: Professor Fischer, thank you very much for these explanations on this interesting and important study!

German translation/deutsche Übersetzung