Because of the separation of the two conference zones, I don’t often find myself attending side events. However, I managed to head over to Bonn Zone for an interesting side event this afternoon, namely “Comparing and Contrasting Public Opinion about Climate Change in China and the United States”. The event was held jointly by the China Center for Climate Change Communications and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, featuring the release of the research done by Dr. Binbin Wang from Peking University and Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz from Yale University. This session was the first time a result of the research is released to the public, and the official paper will only be available starting next week. Coincidentally, I sat by the side of someone from my university and got to know that Dr. Wang is from our university’s School of International Relations (PKUers everywhere).
The session started with a welcoming speech by Jing Hui from the Energy Foundation China, who highlighted the critical role of both China and the United States played in the climate change scene and posed the question of “what is the key narrative to drive stakeholder engagement?” “The Paris Agreement is no longer a chain that can be broken by the weakest link”, as stated by Nick Nuttall from the UNFCCC secretariat in his opening remarks.
In her presentation, Dr. Wang explained that the reason she is conducting the survey was to find out the opinion of the Chinese public on climate change because all we know of is that the Chinese government is very committed to meeting its commitment in the Paris Agreement. That is why she wanted to collect this data to help the government in delivering the action plan. She highlighted that the substantial Chinese public awareness on climate change was provoked by the fact that many of the day-to-day population face the bizarre effects of climate change. Based on her findings that millennials are more willing to pay for climate-friendly products, she mentioned that this data could be used to engage the business community in the fight against climate change.
Before commencing his presentation, Dr. Leiserowitz explained that his researching had been going on for years and they have been consistently surveying with the same questions to ease the comparison of public opinion on climate change over time. He highlighted that the public opinion in the United States is highly influenced by the politics of the time, for example, there had been an increase in climate change deniers after Obama was elected president because of the campaign run by the Republican party. One of his central messages was that to the average Americans, the issue of climate change is psychological distant because of its distance in space and time.
Amongst the panelist, Tom Brookes from the European Climate Foundation mentioned that Anglo-liberalism has an effect on the perception of climate change, whereby people see addressing climate change resulting in some group losing out in the economy. He relates this to the budding climate change denying movement in Southeast Asia, claiming that when people search for precedence in dealing with the sense of being threatened and the only example they have is being defensive, they are going to pick up on it.
Information on public opinion is essential to the fight in climate change as it acts as an input for the government to plan out its action plan. I hope that their survey can actually be used as a starting point to change people’s mind. It is necessary for us to find a narrative to break the psychological distance of climate change from our daily lives.
Written by Xiandi
Edited by Varun