Civil Society, Climate Action

Aren’t world citizens ready for a change ?

This article is written by Thomas Désaunay.

After 20 years of negotiations, one could expect a final rush. But it is still as slow, at the risk of not reaching an agreement on time. But what is the stumbling block? Aren’t world citizens ready for a change ?

The « World Wide Views on climate and energy » (WWV) project assigned themselves with the mission of answering a question that no negotiators seem to ask themselves: what do the citizens of my country want [1] ? What do these people that I represent want ? Those, who, in case of an agreement, will be the first witnesses and actors of the energy and greenhouse gas reductions.  The same people who, in the event of insufficient action, will be the first to suffer climate change impacts.

WWV conducted a broad international study to answer this question. Far more that a simple anonymous survey, a sample of countries representative of all interest groups of UNFCCC negotiations was selected. Inside these countries, representative samples of the population were in turn selected. Before answering, the respondents attended information sessions dealing with climate, energy and international negotiations.

The results of the study were described as « surprising » by the authors.

Historical, present or future responsibility?

Only 21.5% of respondents from the developed countries believe that the best basis for setting the ambition of national climate contributions should be the historical emissions. But what do citizens from developing countries think of that ? This is the first surprise: the result is extremely close: 22.4%, while 71% look toward the future and believe that current or anticipated emissions (38%) or current or anticipated economic capabilities (33%) should set national targets. The similarity between results of developed and developing countries is the first teaching of this study, and is observed invariably in all the topics of the survey, far from the trench warfare of international negotiations between North and  South.

What ambition ?

An overwhelming 98% of world citizens are « concerned » about climate change, among which 79% are « very concerned ». As a logical consequence, 88% believe that all countries must take « ambitious action » in Paris at COP21, and even « whatever it takes to limit temperatures exceeding 2 degrees Celsius warming » according to 63% of them. This strong and poignant message highlights once again the contrast with the inside of the negotiations where every country, holding on firmly to its former model, pulls the agreement’s ambition always further down.

The free rider

Even for a resolutely ambitious country, one obstacle still remains: the fear of flying solo and thereby losing its relative competitiveness when dropping the former model. To this, world citizens give once again a bright and clear answer: 79% of them believe that their country should take measure to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions even if many other countries do not take measures. Among the G7 countries, 99% of respondents think that their country should take measure… in any case.

Here are two conclusions from the study. The first one deals with representativeness: why is there such a gap between delegations’ stances and those of world citizens ? How are UNFCCC delegations chosen ? Shouldn’t we vote for them ?

The second one deals with the importance of awareness. Before answering to the survey, all respondents had undergone a training about the stakes of the negotiations, climate change and energy. This results are therefore those of educated respondents… and this could explain the homogeneity of the results.

[1] With the notable exception of Peru, that opened up a round of public consultation of the civil society regarding its INDC.


About the author : Thomas Désaunay is a chemist specialized in energy conversion and storage. After four years of research in the field of innovative fuel cells and batteries, he decided to broaden his horizons and bring his scientific expertise to tackle climate change.

2 réflexions au sujet de “Aren’t world citizens ready for a change ?”

  1. This is really interesting and important information. Two comments come to mind: 1. citizens can act without the « approval » of their governments by changing their daily habits; 2. education about climate change is necessary. Thank you for sharing this.

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