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Public backs climate change action across the globe, massive U.N. poll finds

Covering 50 countries, the U.N. survey found most people support renewable energy, forest protection and electric vehicles.
Image: Thousands of school students and protesters march along College Street during a climate strike rally in Sydney
Thousands of school students and protesters march during a climate strike rally in Sydney, Australia, 2019.Jenny Evans / Getty Images file

LONDON — The biggest global survey of its kind has found that almost two thirds of people believe climate change remains a global emergency, despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The Peoples' Climate Vote, published Wednesday, conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the University of Oxford, surveyed 1.2 million people across 50 countries.

In total, 64 percent of respondents agreed that climate change represented a pressing emergency. The survey also found a distinct age divide, with the majority of young people more concerned about climate change.

"The results of the survey clearly illustrate that urgent climate action has broad support amongst people around the globe," UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner, said in a statement.

"But more than that, the poll reveals how people want their policymakers to tackle the crisis," he said.

By taking an unconventional approach and reaching out via mobile gaming websites and apps, the survey found 70 percent of young people called climate change a global emergency compared to 58 percent of adults aged over 60.

Since 2018, millions of students from New Zealand to New York have been striking and demonstrating to demand global action on climate change.

The Fridays for Future movement, which began as a lone demonstration by Swedish teen Greta Thunberg, quickly mushroomed, with millions of students taking to the streets to push climate change to the top of the agenda of world leaders.

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In many participating countries, the survey was the first large-scale opinion poll ever conducted on the issue.

In Britain, making companies pay for pollution had high support while the majority of those asked in the United States backed renewable energy sources.

Investing in green jobs and more climate-friendly farming techniques were popular in Indonesia and Egypt, the survey found, but fewer people overall elsewhere supported plant-based diets.

"The Peoples' Climate Vote has delivered a treasure trove of data on public opinion that we've never seen before," said Professor Stephen Fisher from the University of Oxford. "Recognition of the climate emergency is much more widespread than previously thought."

Image: Young demonstrators hold placards as they attend a climate change protest organised by "Youth Strike 4 Climate", opposite the Houses of Parliament in central London
Young demonstrators hold placards as they attend a climate change protest organized by "Youth Strike 4 Climate", opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, 2019.Ben Stansall / AFP via Getty Images file

On Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned leaders that the world was not only facing a Covid-19 emergency but also "existential threats" to climate and biodiversity.

In a speech to the World Economic Forum's virtual Davos Agenda meeting, he said one crisis could inform the other, urging Covid-19 recovery plans to also help "end our war against nature, avert climate catastrophe and restore our planet."

In the U.S. — the world's second largest carbon emitter after China — hours after President Joe Biden was sworn into office, America rejoined the global climate pact signed in Paris in 2015. Biden also cancelled the Keystone XL pipeline permit, symbolizing a shift away from fossil fuels.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.