Climate Change Second-Only to War as Global Concern

Despite War and the Cost-of-Living Crisis, Climate Change Remains a Major Global Concern

Rising inflation and the soaring costs of energy and food are beginning to bite for households everywhere. In Europe, the large majority of households have had to cut their spending, and most say they expect to have to cut it further in the near future. In the UK, as many as one in seven adults claim they cannot afford to eat every day.

It is a similar picture in the USA, where the highest inflation rates in four decades means American consumers have much less money in their pockets. And in countries like Brazil, double-digit inflation rates have seen consumer prices jump by 12 percent in the last 12 months. A drop in rainfall has reduced both crop yields and hydropower generation, further exacerbating the problem.

It is a situation that is causing understandable anxiety, with the UN Development Programme claiming that 71 million people have been pushed into poverty in recent years and that there is significant risk of recession-induced poverty in the future.

This angst is certainly apparent from the results of GlobeScan’s latest Healthy & Sustainable Living Global Consumer Insights study. The research, which includes the opinions, attitudes, and behaviours of about 30,000 people, revealed that most people – six in ten – feel “greatly” personally affected by the increased cost of living. In fact, majorities in 23 out of the 31 markets surveyed say they are “greatly affected” by increased living costs, with people in emerging markets feeling the effects most greatly.

But in spite of these cost-of-living concerns, people are still worried about the environment. While the ongoing conflict in Ukraine – responsible for the huge spike in energy and food prices – was named as the number-one global concern, the climate crisis was recognised as being the second in line when it comes to the world’s “very serious” problems, just ahead of extreme poverty, depletion of natural resources, and other environmental challenges, including water and air pollution, and plastic waste.

The proportion of respondents perceiving climate change to be “very serious” has continued to grow every year since 2014 and has now reached unprecedented levels. This is likely a result of the fact that more people feel increasingly personally affected by changes brought about by global warming. An average of 37 percent of people across all markets now claim to be “greatly” personally affected, with people in Argentina, Australia, France, India, and Kenya showing increased climate concern, up from 31 percent in 2020.

Extreme heat, food price increases, wildfires, drought, disease, and flooding are all consistently mentioned by people when asked how the climate crisis is personally affecting them. This summer’s blistering heat waves and widespread wildfires brought much of Europe to a halt. Record temperatures were recorded in Portugal, and wildfires engulfed almost 60 percent more land than the previous record set in 2017.

Such tangible natural disasters are clearly making people more aware of the need for solid climate mitigation tactics and adaptation solutions. But interestingly, the majority of people (57%) across all markets are connecting the dots between rising food costs and the impacts of climate change – from warmer temperatures and lower rainfall to disruptive weather events and erratic harvest patterns. In 23 out of 31 markets, a majority of those stating they have personally experienced climate change impacts say this has been (among other things) through higher food prices.

While war wages on the continent, and people grapple with household budgets at home, we should be buoyed by the fact that fears for our natural world have not diminished. In fact, the opposite has happened. Almost nine in ten people (86%) now agree that the social, environmental, and economic challenges currently facing the world represent a bigger crisis than we have ever faced before. Ten years ago, this number was 75 percent.

The research even suggests that four in ten people around the world feel that climate change is now a deterrent to having children. Those who say they are personally affected by climate change are also more likely to not want to have children because of climate change than those who are not affected.

Climate and environmental concerns remain front of mind for many people. This is supported by a growing acknowledgement that different issues – from conflict and environmental degradation to inflation – are connected. And the way in which governments and businesses confront our most challenging problems – and develop and evolve solutions – must be more holistic.

About the Healthy & Sustainable Living research program

The Healthy & Sustainable Living Global Consumer Insights research was conducted in June and July 2022. Designed by GlobeScan, it was developed with a range of partners including Akatu InstituteIKEALevi Strauss & Co.M&C Saatchi GroupNYU Stern Center for Sustainable BusinessP&GPepsiCoReckittVisa, and WWF International. The goal of the study is to help organizations better understand the mindsets of consumers globally and what enables them or prevents them from living in a healthier and more sustainable way.