People are planning to drive and fly more in future than they did before the coronavirus pandemic, a survey suggests, even though the overwhelming majority accept human responsibility for the climate crisis.
The apparent disconnect between beliefs and actions raises fears that without strong political intervention, these actions could undermine efforts to meet the targets set in the Paris agreement and hopes of a green recovery from the coronavirus crisis.
Approximately 26,000 people in 25 countries were polled in July and August by the YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project, in a survey designed with the Guardian.
By a ratio of more than three to one, the respondents agreed humankind was mainly or partly to blame for the climate emergency.
This widespread acknowledgement of the science is likely to strengthen calls for more ambitious international efforts to reduce industrial and agricultural emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are intensifying global heating and extreme weather events, such as storms, floods and droughts.
Among the countries with the strongest support for this scientifically proven view were the UK (86%), China (87%), Japan (85%), Brazil (88%) and Spain (87%).
The weakest were all oil states, though even in these countries – which rely heavily on fossil fuel sales – a substantial majority recognised humanity’s role in climate disruption. Saudi Arabia was bottom with 57%, then Egypt with 67% and the US with 69%.
Reflecting similar trends, the number of people who believed human-made global heating was a hoax was lowest in the UK (just 9%) and highest in oil-producing countries such as the US (27%), Nigeria (31%) and Saudi Arabia (27%).
When it comes to behavioural change, there were far greater variations from country to country.
Climate campaigners have called for a reduction in air travel, which is a big source of emissions. This dropped markedly during the coronavirus lockdowns in several countries, but there was a wide discrepancy over people’s plans to fly after the pandemic compared with before.
In several countries, the number of people who said they planned to use planes less was higher than the number who said they would use them more.
This trend was most marked in the UK (30% fly less v 15% more), Italy (34% less v 18% more), Germany (31% less v 17% more) and India (42% less v 21% more).
However, in many other countries, the reverse was true, particularly Brazil (22% fly less v 41% more) and Nigeria (20% less v 50% more).
In the US, China, France and Japan, there was little difference between the two.
The trend was similarly uneven when it came to plans for overseas holidays after the pandemic, compared with before.
In Sweden, Brazil, Egypt and Nigeria, a higher number planned more foreign holiday than fewer. In the UK, Italy, Germany, China and Thailand, by contrast, the inclination was more towards domestic holidays.
In climate terms, the most alarming finding of the survey was the widespread intention to drive more after the pandemic than before, despite efforts in many countries to create more space in cities for safe and sustainable modes of transport.
This trend was apparent in all 26 countries in the survey and most pronounced in Brazil, where 62% said they would use their car more than before the pandemic, while only 12% said less, and South Africa 60% more and 12%.
In the US and Australia, more than 40% expected to drive more than before, compared with 10% less.
The trend was also apparent but less strong in the UK, Italy, Germany, India and China. While this may be partly because of the difficulties of adequate social spacing on public transport, it means more traffic, more congestion and more emissions.