Global warming cools off as top concern

Thursday, 29 September 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

NEW YORK: Concern about climate change/global warming among online consumers around the world took a back-seat to other environmental issues such as air and water pollution, water shortages, packaging waste and use of pesticides, according to Nielsen’s 2011 Global Online Environment & Sustainability Survey of more than 25,000 internet respondents in 51 countries.

The latest findings, which were compared to 2007 and 2009 results, show that while 69 per cent of global online consumers say they are concerned about climate change/global warming (up from 66 per cent in 2009, but down from 72 per cent in 2007), concern for other environmental issues are taking a higher priority in the minds of consumers and are rising with greater intensity.

Three out of four global consumers rated air pollution (77%) and water pollution (75%) as top concerns, both increasing six percentage points compared to 2009. But the areas where concern is mounting fastest among 73 per cent of global online consumers is worry over the use of pesticides, packaging waste and water shortages, with reported concern increasing 16, 14 and 13 percentage points, respectively.

“There are many possible reasons for declines in concern about climate change/global warming. Focus on immediate worries such as job security, local school quality, crime and economic well-being have all diminished media attention for climate stories in the past two years. In the face of other pressing concerns, a public ‘caring capacity’ for climate change has been tested,” said Dr. Maxwell T. Boykoff, Senior Visiting Research Associate, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford.

“Without continued attention paid to global warming/climate change in the media, such concerns may have faded from the collective public conscience.”

Top environmental concerns among Asia Pacific consumers include water shortages and air pollution, while water pollution was the main concern for Latin Americans, Middle Eastern/Africans, Europeans and North Americans.

Global warming skeptics and believers

The USA recorded one of the steepest declines in concern about climate change/global warming among global markets over the four-year period from 2007 to 2011, dropping 14 percentage points.

Today, less than half of Americans (48%) say they are concerned about climate change, which contrasts sharply with reported concern across the regions of the world: Latin America (90%), Middle East/Africa (80%), Asia Pacific (72%), and Europe (68%). Among the 21 per cent of Americans who are decidedly not concerned, 63 per cent indicated they believe natural variation — and not people — causes climate change/global warming.

“During this period, Nielsen’s Global Online Consumer Confidence Survey found heightened American consumer concern around the economy, rising gas prices, and debt,” said Todd Hale, SVP Consumer & Shopper Insights, Nielsen US. “With financial concerns still on the minds of many Americans, they’re indicating less and less concern about climate change and other environmental issues.”

In China, concern about climate change/global warming dropped 17 per cent in the last two years from 77 per cent in 2009 to 64 per cent in 2011. Fully 86 per cent of Indians are concerned about climate change, an increase of one percentage point compared to 2009.

The study found that there are a number of consumers who are either indifferent or not concerned about this issue. One-in-five global online consumers say they are neither concerned nor unconcerned about climate change/global warming and one-in-10 are not concerned at all.

While half (48%) of unconcerned global online consumers cite “more urgent and serious matters in the world today” as the main reason for climate change apathy, 37 per cent believe that climate change is not the result of human behavior and 23 per cent believe future technologies will solve the problem.

Globally, Latin Americans remain the most concerned about climate change/global warming, at 90 per cent up from 85 per cent in 2009, while Middle East/Africa consumers posted the highest increase regionally as concern grew from 69 to 80 per cent in the two year span.

“Latin America has experienced a number of distressing and impactful environmental events over the last several years, and the region’s consumers are increasingly attributing these events to broad climate change,” said Arturo García, President, Nielsen Latin America. “People are expressing clear concern about unusual weather patterns including increased rainfall, hurricanes, and floods in some parts of Latin America, and severe droughts in others.”

As for the sharp rise in concern in the Middle East/Africa, “The hot and dry climates in many Middle Eastern and African countries and the widely held perception that temperatures are rising every summer has likely led to an increased concern about climate change and weather variation,” said Ram Mohan Rao, Managing Director, Nielsen Egypt.

Climate change/global warming concern increased 10 points in Europe to 68 per cent, fell three points in Asia Pacific to 72 per cent, and North America was the least concerned region with a two point decline to 50 per cent. Global increase for climate change concern was driven largely by Middle East/Africa markets where awareness rose significantly in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel, and remained high in South Africa.

Thailand, Mexico, and Portugal were the world’s most concerned countries about climate change, with 93 per cent of respondents from each market indicating concern. Portugal and Mexico were also the world’s most concerned countries about water shortages and air and water pollution.

“In Portugal, severe weather patterns of extreme and uncharacteristic heat waves in the summer and snow in the winter over the past few years have heightened consumer concern and awareness over global warming and climate change issues,” said Luís Bio, Marketing Director, Nielsen Portugal.

“In Mexico, as in the rest of Latin America, the media has been an influential force in raising awareness about the environment, with extensive coverage of environmental issues,” said Paola Fonseca, Strategy and Innovation VP, Nielsen Latin America. “And, having recognised vast consumer concern, manufacturers, retailers and service companies are increasingly implementing environmentally-friendly social responsibility programs.”

Gap between concern and the cash register

Overall, 83 per cent of global online consumers say that it is important that companies implement programs to improve the environment, but only 22 per cent say they will pay more for an eco-friendly product.

Willingness to pay extra for environmentally-friendly goods is highest in the Middle East/Africa, where one-third of consumers are willing and lowest in North America, where only 12 per cent of both Canadians and Americans say they will pay extra for eco-friendly products.

Many consumers reported a personal preference for eco-friendly goods, but large percentages of respondents report setting aside this preference and buying whichever product is cheapest, including 48 per cent in North America, 36 per cent in Middle East/Africa, 35 per cent in Europe, 33 per cent in Asia Pacific, and 27 per cent in Latin America.

Global consumers have mixed feelings about the environmental impact and benefits of particular sustainable practices. While 64 per cent of consumers, globally, indicated they believe organic products are good for the environment, there is wide regional disparity of opinion. Eighty per cent of Latin Americans and 72 per cent of Asia Pacific respondents think organic products are environmentally-friendly, but fewer people are convinced in Europe (58%), Middle East/Africa (57%), and North America (49%).

Among other environmental and sustainability efforts manufacturers have taken, recycled packaging and energy efficient products are seen as the most broadly helpful. Fully 83 per cent believe that manufacturers using recycled packaging and producing energy efficient products and appliances have a positive impact on the environment.

Fewer consumers are convinced of the positive environmental impact of local products (59%), fair trade products (51%) and products not tested on animals (44%). Belief in the positive impact of “local” products is highest in North America, where 65 per cent of consumers reported believing local goods have a positive impact on the environment.

The Nielsen Global Online Survey

The Nielsen Global Online Environmental Survey was conducted between March 23 and April 12, 2011 and polled more than 25,000 consumers in 51 countries throughout Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and North America. The sample has quotas based on age and sex for each country based on their Internet users, and is weighted to be representative of Internet consumers and has a maximum margin of error of ±0.6%.

This Nielsen survey is based on the behavior of respondents with online access only. Internet penetration rates vary by country. Nielsen uses a minimum reporting standard of 60 per cent Internet penetration or 10M online population for survey inclusion. The Nielsen Global Online Survey, which includes the Global Online Consumer Confidence Survey, was established in 2005.