Kate Mackenzie Developed country voters don’t care about moral CO2 arguments

Here’s something for the world leaders attending the Major Economies Forum today in London to think about. US and UK voters, to be specific, don’t care much about responsibility for historical emissions, according to a survey by Harris Interactive commissioned by the FT.

Only a minority of respondents in those countries believe that developed countries should help developing countries meet the cost of reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. And there is strong support across all the countries surveyed for the view that China should make the most emissions cuts, thanks to its recently-attained status as the biggest emitter:

Check the wording of that first question, though – it’s rather stark and makes no mentioned of historical emissions. But as the second table above shows, making that point in the question only seems to hold sway with mainland Europeans, who are a lot more supportive of rich countries contributing to the cost of poorer countries than Britons or Americans.

There’s also a large number of apparently undecided respondents on these questions, which was evident in  many of the answers to other questions in the survey (more on those below).

Reaching agreement at Copenhagen requires participation from developing countries, who after all are going to contribute most of the growth in greenhouse gas emissions for decades to come. Those developing countries don’t see why they should have to pay for a low-carbon development when the developed world grew rich while consuming cheap fossil fuel with abandon. This, as Fiona Harvey alludes in the FT, is why some developed world leaders have been keen to praise China’s efforts to reduce emissions in recent months.

Either way, the moral/historical argument actually seems to be detrimental, at least in terms of persuading Americans that their government should be helping out developing countries. Look at the “Net agree” figures for US respondents in the breakdown for two questions (the first of which is illustrated above) on whether developed countries should contribute to poorer countries’ carbon-reduction efforts:

How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements? – Developing  countries have not caused as much climate change, so developed countries should be prepared to give more aid to them to deal with the consequences.

Versus this:

How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements? – Developed countries, such as the US and EU member states, should help fund developing countries, such as China, in their efforts to reduce emissions.

Yep – slightly more Americans (and Spaniards) were supportive of rich countries funding poor countries when the topic of historical emissions was not mentioned. Brits gave similar responses on both questions. The differences aren’t huge, but it’s slightly counter-intuitive that some people think that rich countries should provide funding, but not because they are more responsible for historical emissions.

Another interesting result is that energy security actually rated lower as a concern for UK and Italian respondents than it did three years ago:

Related links:

Public backing for deep China emissions cuts (FT, 18/10/09)