America's role in the fight against climate change

December 21, 2014, 3:34 PM UTC

Most Americans say that the developed world has a duty to help poorer countries deal with climate change

Last week’s Lima Call for Climate Action – the blueprint for a more detailed plan to deal with the effects of climate change to be negotiated next year – called for all countries to pledge action on climate, with wealthier economies helping those less well-off, and even providing financial aid to those devastated by rising sea levels.  The latest Economist/YouGov Poll finds a majority of Americans supported of both those goals, at least in principle.

Nearly six in ten agree that the world’s developed countries have a greater responsibility to control greenhouse gases than poorer countries do, and agree rich countries have a responsibility to help poor countries with the effects of climate change.

But climate change is a partisan issue.  Ask Democrats whether climate change exists and is caused by human activity, and nearly three in four will agree.  Nearly three in four Republicans also agree climate change is occurring, but most of those believe human activity is not the cause. 

However, while most Republicans aren’t sure climate change has anything to do with human activity, there is a willingness from about half of Republicans with an opinion to help cope with its effects.  They divide closely on whether or not developed countries have a greater responsibility to control greenhouse gas emissions – and four in ten accept a special responsibility for developed countries to help poorer countries cope with the effects. 

Democrats and independents are much more willing to accept both statements.  More than 50% of independents and three-quarters of Democrats agree with each of those statements.

There is skepticism about the veracity of climate scientists when it comes to their statements on climate change.  More than half the public agrees there is a scientific consensus that climate change is occurring and is mainly caused by human activity, but 45% disagree or aren’t sure.  There is even more skepticism among those 65 and older (53% disagree or aren’t sure), Republicans (65%) and conservatives (62%). 

Americans divide on how much climate scientists can be trusted to tell the truth on this issue.  Fewer than half trust them “a lot” or “completely,” with Republicans especially untrusting. 

Democrats and young adults trust climate scientists most.

Of course, while the public might not be quite sure about scientists, they know what they think about politicians, and they give them hardly any trust on this issue.  60% trust Democratic politicians only “a little” or “not at all;” 69% say the same thing about GOP politicians.

And the public’s judgment of President Obama on the issue of climate change is negative.  He fares somewhat better when Americans are asked about his handling of the environment in general.  45% approve of his performance there, higher than his approval rating on issues like the economy and immigration, and about the same as his approval rating overall.

See the full poll results

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.