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Climate change concern remains high across the globe, says Synovate and Deutsche Welle global study


People cite extreme weather conditions as main danger of climate change; almost half willing to pay more for eco-friendly products

GLOBAL - Climate change. Global warming. Greenhouse effect. Whatever the terms used, over the past few years the world has become used to hearing about it on a regular basis. Whether people believe climate change will have devastating long term effects on the planet or not, it’s a global issue fraught with emotions, and one that’s not going away. Environmentally conscious consumers - no longer the small niche market it once was - are using their spending power to support earth-friendly products, whilst companies and governments around the globe have received the message loud and clear.

To understand more about this hot issue, global market research firm Synovate and international media company Deutsche Welle examined people’s attitudes towards climate change and the issues surrounding it in a recent global research study. The study, conducted with over 13,000 people in 18 countries, also addressed the responsibilities and roles of media in combating this global concern. This is the third global climate change research study that Synovate has conducted since 2007.

Climate concerns?

The study reveals that the world’s population remains as concerned as ever about the effects of climate change. Across all countries surveyed in the three rounds of research conducted by Synovate, 30% of people in 2010 and 2008 said they were ’very concerned’ about climate change, versus 29% in 2007.

Interestingly, there was an increase in the percentage of people who aren’t concerned about climate change at all because they believe it’s just part of a natural cycle of events. Nine percent of those surveyed this year compared to 4% in 2008 are not worried, no doubt at least partially influenced by the several groups who have questioned the validity of the concerns around climate change over the past year.

Steve Garton, global head of media research at Synovate, said: “The issue of climate change has continued its rough ride since our last climate change survey in 2008. Global conferences that have been organised to tackle the challenges have struggled to reach a meaningful consensus whilst the underlying science has been questioned by some. At the very least, the most important beliefs of the impacts relating to climate change have not been made simple and clear enough to people around the world.”

Erik Bettermann, Deutsche Welle Director General, believes that the media has a huge responsibility: “The media must provide an objective and comprehensible view of the main topics for the future. At the same time, it will become even more important for journalists to advocate action from individuals with well-researched articles. They have to create a forum for the exchange of ideas and opinions and can’t get sucked in by people wanting to sell questionable catastrophe scenarios or by those who prematurely say the coast is clear.”

In the latest survey, countries with the highest number of people reporting they are ’very concerned’ about climate change include Colombia (69%), Ecuador (59%), and China (58%, which is more than double the 26% of Chinese who were very concerned in 2007).

Darryl Andrew, CEO for Synovate China, said: "The Chinese Government is well aware of the need to address the challenges they are facing in order to preserve the environment for future generations, whilst balancing the need to ensure China continues on its path for economic growth. Government has been behind many initiatives at the grassroots level, not only to raise awareness of the need to protect the environment but also enact changes in behaviour.

“Consequently, there have been policies developed including monetary incentives to force a dramatic reduction in plastic shopping bags and cash incentives for purchasing cars with smaller engine sizes and/or alternative fuel vehicles, along with many others. The Government has pursued these policies whilst also putting in infrastructure to support them and, simultaneously, launching an education campaign targeting consumers. There is no better statement of this than the International Expo in Shanghai with the theme ’Better city, Better life’, and some of this revolves around the sustainability of future urban development.”

Corporate social responsibility

The vast majority of those surveyed (88%) feel that companies have a responsibility to help reduce climate change. This was highest in China (98%) and France (94%).

In response to how they should do this, the top answer was ’save energy and reduce waste’ (70%) followed by ’ensure materials are green and ethically sourced’ (58%).

Garton said: “Companies around the world have been told by consumers (and their wallets) over the past few years to examine how they can become more efficient whilst also ensuring the goods they produce are healthy for the individual and the planet.”

According to Andrew, "The general population in China is not ignorant of the damaging effects of irresponsible manufacturers with respect to their lack of treatment of waste and by-products of their manufacturing processes. The wider population fully believes the responsibility rests with those who profit from these actions. While there is a China equivalent of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there is still work to be done to sharpen the teeth of the agency to effect change.

"However, there are many manufacturers in China, such as Coca-Cola and McDonalds, who are trailblazers in environmental initiatives. Coca-Cola has a high target for water retention in their manufacturing process while McDonalds in China dispensed with polystyrene packaging for their burgers years ago. And of course Philips has been championing its low energy demand light bulbs.

“Locally, BYD is a company in China that everyone is watching due to their commitment to producing battery powered vehicles for private vehicles and public transport; they’re unmatched anywhere in the world. There is an insatiable thirst for private car ownership in China - this is what propelled China to become the biggest car market in the world, surpassing the US. Whilst there is a profit motive for BYD, they are set to prove beyond doubt that there is a sustainable solution for the environment at the same time.”

Where’s the blame?

Globally, people believe the main factor in climate change is human causes (waste, population increases, electricity, etc). Twenty-eight percent of people in the latest survey say this is the main factor, fairly consistent with the 27% who said this in 2008, and a substantial increase from the 20% who said this in 2007.

In 2010, as with all the previous studies, only 1% of people primarily blame airplanes for climate ills and just 4% blame automobiles. While the blame on cars was as high as 8% among Russians in the latest survey, the overall average dropped - from 7% of people in 2007 and 6% in 2008 that believed cars were mostly at fault.

Germany, the top market in 2007 that held cars responsible, seems to no longer hold this belief, dropping from 19% in 2007 to 7% in 2008 to just 3% - consistent with the global average - in 2010.

“While the efforts being made by automotive manufacturers to produce better fuel saving and alternative fuel powertrains is being received very positively by consumers across the world, there is also a feeling that more can still be done,” said Tim Englehart, senior vice president of Motoresearch, Synovate’s automotive research division.

While the blame on cars has lessened substantially, people’s belief that deforestation is the main factor causing climate change has doubled since Synovate’s first climate change survey, from 5% in 2007 to 10% in 2010. This rose as high as 41% in Kenya and 22% in Brazil.

George Waititu, head of Synovate Kenya, said: “Between 2007 and 2009 Kenya went through the worst drought in a decade. At the same time, the country experienced the worst political crisis in half a century, notwithstanding the global economic downturn. The livelihoods of many Kenyans are still based on agriculture, which relies on climate conditions, global economic stability and political solidity. The increase is due to the fact that the adverse effects of the drought were realized in 2010, while 2008 was fairly manageable. In the search for solutions, various stakeholders across the country and beyond have pointed to deforestation as the main cause of climate change, especially around Mau forest, the largest water catchment in the country. The government has embarked on a campaign to relocate those who live around the area, effectively re-foresting the Mau.”

Climate change dangers

Almost one third of respondents (31%) globally cited the biggest danger of climate change to be erratic / extreme weather conditions. This was highest in China at 62%, followed by France, Germany and Japan (48% each).

The next most important dangers were desertification and drought (6% each), rising as high as 28% in Kenya with its citizens selecting desertification, and 34% of Colombians selecting drought.

Waititu said: “It is no surprise that Kenyans see desertification as the main danger of climate change. While the efforts to protect the country’s water catchment areas are now on the upswing, climate patterns have changed and more rivers have turned seasonal. All in all, there is increasing public awareness on the consequences of desertification - whether from media or personal experiences - now more than at any other time in the past.”

While only 5% of people globally feel that the impact on farming and agriculture is the main danger of climate change to the world, 12% of Australians and 10% of both Americans and Canadians feel this way.

Personal responsibility

Most of the people surveyed indicated that they’ve personally done something to help reduce the impact of climate change. The most popular activity? Saving electricity, with 76% of people globally saying they did this. This was highest in South Africa (95%) and China (93%).

The next most common activity was reducing water consumption, with 68% of people globally doing this. This was highest in China at 96%, followed by Colombia (90%), Australia (88%) and Brazil (87%).

A close third was recycling waste (67%) and reducing the use of packaging and bags (also 67%). Reducing packaging / bags was highest in Hong Kong at 94%, followed by China at 93%, where government measures to reduce use has had immediate effects.

The environmental mantra on driving smaller and more fuel efficient cars has clearly spread throughout the world. More than one in five (22%) people globally say they have bought or plan to buy a smaller car, rising as high as 52% in China and 47% in South Africa while 14% globally say they bought or plan to buy an electric or hybrid car (highest in China at 52%, followed by Brazil at 24%).

Synovate Motoresearch’s Englehart said: “With manufacturers focusing on building appealing small cars and the influx of hybrid offerings, environmentally conscious consumers will continue to drive demand in these segments especially as the price of fuel remains volatile and fears of limited oil reserves continue.”

Other ways people have sought to reduce the impact of climate change:

* 57% of people globally bought energy efficient devices whilst Australia stood at 79% - driven by government measures to eliminate wasteful incandescent light bulbs
* About one third globally (33%) changed their travel activities; this was highest in China (54%), Hong Kong (53%) and France (52%)
* Almost half (47%) took public transport more frequently, again highest in China (89%) and Hong Kong (86%)
* One in five (21%) used an alternative energy source (solar, wind, etc.), with Colombia (36%) rating amongst the highest on alternative energy
* Only 15% of people globally contributed to a carbon offsetting scheme, indicating how much progress still needs to be made in this area

When asked about the best way to tackle the effects of climate change, 42% of people globally said the ’changed behaviour of ordinary citizens’ is the way to go.

Shopping green

People across the globe seem more than willing to “put their money where their mouth is” when it comes to doing their part to reduce the effects of climate change. When asked if they’d spend more for environmentally friendly products, almost half the people surveyed said they’d be willing to pay more. Twenty-seven percent say they’re willing to spend up to 9% more whilst 22% are willing to spend from 10-19% more for products that are eco-conscious.

Garton said, “We are starting to see people connecting their own health to the future well-being of the planet, and they’re willing to spend a little more to make sure both are protected.”

Media matters

The media, whose job it is to report what’s happening in the world, has been very much a part of shaping public perceptions of global issues such as climate change. When respondents were asked what role should media play in the issue of climate change, most said it should be ’educating and informing the public’. People rate TV as the best media source for climate change information, followed by websites.

“There is no global solution for creating climate change awareness,” says Bettermann, Deutsche Welle Director General. “The media and journalists have to adapt their methods to different circumstances. In restrictive media markets, you need to build trust and rely on dialogue. Global media has to show that international public interest with regards to climate protection exists. But journalists must also take the arguments from developing countries seriously - because these countries still need stable economic growth to compete globally. These are exactly the types of discussions that we will be initiating at this year’s Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum.”

Synovate media research head Garton said, “Media plays a pivotal role in informing the world’s consumers, and helping drive change in perceptions and behaviours. Media can find a ready audience for useful advice, especially when it helps answer the practical questions of what people can do to make changes for the better.”

More detailed results of media’s role in the issue of climate change will be presented at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in Bonn, Germany, 21 to 23 June 2010.

About the Synovate / Deutsche Welle Climate Change Study 2010

This Synovate / Deutsche Welle study examined the attitudes and critical issues as seen by the world’s inhabitants toward climate change. The study also addressed the responsibilities and roles of media in combating this global concern. This 2010 study is the third global climate change study conducted by Synovate, with the other studies occurring in 2007 and 2008.

This climate change study was conducted with 13,444 people across 18 countries from 23 February to 30 April 2010 by telephone, face to face and online methodologies. People from the following countries took part: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Ecuador, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Kenya, Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, UAE, UK and US. Trend information is available for 13 of these markets that participated in all three climate change studies conducted by Synovate between 2007 and 2010: Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Russia, South Africa, UAE, UK and US. The trend information above is drawn from these 13 markets.

Top line findings from this study were shared at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue on 2 to 4 May in Petersberg, Germany and more detailed results will be presented at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in Bonn, Germany 21 to 23 June.

About Deutsche Welle

Deutsche Welle is Germany’s international broadcaster that produces television, radio and online content in 30 languages. It also makes use of mobile and other means of distribution. In addition, Deutsche Welle offers an academy that provides training for media professionals and management from developing countries. The headquarters is in Bonn, Germany with its main television studio based in Berlin.

About Synovate

Synovate, the market research arm of Aegis Group plc, generates consumer insights that drive competitive marketing solutions. The network provides clients with cohesive global support and a comprehensive suite of research solutions. Synovate employs over 6,000 employees across 62 countries.

For more information on Synovate visit


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