Climate activists hold a large red balloon representing the Earth on June 11, 2020, in Seoul, South Korea. (Chris Jung/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Climate activists hold a large red balloon representing the Earth on June 11, 2020, in Seoul, South Korea. (Chris Jung/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, people around the world are still concerned by the threat of global climate change. A median of 70% across 14 countries surveyed over the summer say climate change is a major threat to their country. A similar median, 69%, say the same of the spread of infectious diseases.

Nearly equal shares view climate change and the spread of disease as a major threat

This analysis focuses on cross-national views of how people perceive the threat of global climate change in 14 advanced economies. Pew Research Center has published previous looks at attitudes toward climate change, both globally and in the U.S.

For this report, we use data from nationally representative surveys of 14,276 adults from June 10 to Aug. 3, 2020, in 14 economically advanced countries. All surveys were conducted over the phone with adults in the United States, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and South Korea.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, face-to-face interviewing is not currently possible in many parts of the world, so surveys were only conducted in countries with robust telephone polling operations.

Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology.

Of the two issues, climate change is the more commonly selected threat in eight of 14 countries polled, while five name the spread of infectious diseases as a top threat (the Canadian public is split, with equal shares citing climate change and the spread of disease). Majorities in each of the countries surveyed say both global climate change and the spread of infectious diseases are major threats to their country.

Majorities in every country surveyed say climate change poses a major threat

The share who say climate change is a major threat in each country ranges from 59% in Australia to 83% in France, Spain and Italy. Two-thirds or more say the same in Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, Japan and South Korea.

Significant minorities across the countries surveyed say climate change is a minor threat to their country, with a median of 24% expressing this view. A quarter or more say it is a minor threat in half the countries polled. Of these, Denmark has the largest share (34%) calling climate change a minor, not major, threat.

Relatively few say climate change is not a threat: Only in the United States do more than one-in-ten hold this view.

In many countries, the percent who view climate change as a major threat has increased significantly since the question was first asked. This aligns with past Pew Research Center surveys that included countries in Latin American and sub-Saharan Africa. In 2013, a median of 55% across 10 countries said climate change was a major threat. This year, a median of 76% across the same 10 countries say the same.

Views of climate change as a major threat have increased in many countries

In France, for example, about half (54%) said climate change was a major threat in 2013. In 2020, 83% say this, an increase of 29 percentage points. However, in nearly every country surveyed, there was no significant change between 2018, when the question was last asked, and 2020.

Those on ideological left show greater concern about global climate change

In all countries surveyed, people who place themselves on the left of the political spectrum are more likely to see global climate change as a major threat to their country than those on the right. Differences between the two sides of the ideological spectrum reach the double digits in 12 of 13 countries surveyed. (Those in Japan were not asked about their ideology.)

This divide is widest in the U.S. (where ideology from left to right is defined as liberal, moderate or conservative): 89% of liberals view climate change as a critical threat compared with 40% of conservatives, a difference of 49 percentage points. Australia and Canada follow with differences of 30 and 29 points, respectively. Nonetheless, at least four-in-ten of those on the right in each country still see global warming as a substantial threat to their country.

Previous international Pew Research Center surveys have found that views on climate change are aligned with ideology. In a survey of 20 publics fielded from October 2019 to March 2020, those on the left were for the most part more likely to say climate change is a very serious problem, that it is affecting where they live and that the national government is doing too little to address its effects.

The summer 2020 survey finds women are more likely than men to say climate change poses a major threat. In Sweden, for example, women are 16 percentage points more likely than men to say climate change is a major threat (72% vs. 56%).

U.S. partisan divide on climate change persists

In the U.S., Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are significantly more likely to view climate change as a major threat than Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. While 85% of Democrats say global warming poses a significant threat to the U.S., only 31% of Republicans say the same.

The share of Americans who say climate change is a major threat to the U.S. has increased from 2012, but this rise in concern has come mostly from Democrats (+26 percentage points since 2012). The share of Republicans saying this has increased just 8 points over the same period. This aligns with previous Pew Research Center surveys on Americans’ views of climate change.

Note: Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology.

Moira Fagan  is a research analyst focusing on global attitudes research at Pew Research Center.
Christine Huang  is a research analyst focusing on global attitudes at Pew Research Center.