What citizens in developing countries expect from COP21?

The short answer is: pretty much the same as what citizens of the most industrialized nations are waiting for. But with thin and telling differences.

The opinions of about 10,000 people from 75 countries, from junior high school students (12 years old) to over 90-years old respondents, were collected during the “World Wide Views on Climate and Energy” global consultation.

The results were published online and key findings also presented in Bonn in June, during the UNFCCC negotiations in preparation of the awaited climate conference in Paris in December (COP21).

The initiative is interesting not so much for its statistical meaning (although organizers specified that respondents were selected to reflect the demographic diversity in their country or region with regards to age, gender, occupation, education, geographical zone of residency, and membership of environmental organizations), but because it was a rare opportunity to hear from citizens of different nationalities in an almost direct way. To get a taste of climate Weltanschauung in a context where the actors are often identified only with states and governments.

Overall, 4 out of 5 of the world’s citizens are ‘very concerned’ about climate change, and people in developing countries are more concerned than those in industrialized ones (see images below picked from the WWV results available online).


More than 60 percent of the total agree that “the world should decide in Paris to do whatever it takes to limit temperatures exceeding 2 degrees Celsius warming”, including subsidizing low-carbon energy (56 percent), supporting research and development (45 percent), adopting new standards (23 percent) and taxes on carbon emissions or emissions trading schemes (20 percent), and cutting fossil fuel subsidies (16 percent). The last measure is less popular in developing countries, as it was indicated by only 14 percent of the respondents (versus 24 percent of respondents in developed countries).

Both groups agreed that solutions implemented globally will be most effective (58 percent for developing, 61 percent for developed). Majority agreed that the Paris agreement should include legally-binding, national short-term goals (72 percent) and their own country should take measure to reduce GHG emissions even if many other countries do not do so (almost 80 percent on global average). For citizens of islands states and G7 countries this percentage rises to 85 and 89 percent respectively.

Quite interestingly, opinions of respondents in developing and industrialized countries essentially converge also when they consider ways to share efforts and responsibilities in dealing with climate change. Majority of the total considers current or anticipated emissions the best basis for setting the ambition of national climate pledges (37 percent of respondents in developing countries and 43 percent of those in industrialized ones).

Not surprisingly, among those thinking that the best criteria are instead historical emissions, or economic capabilities, the percentage of respondents in developing countries is higher (22 versus 17 percent and 32 versus 29 percent respectively). There is a quite clear convergence on the need for continuing financial transfers to support mitigation and adaptation in low income countries, in addition to the USD100 billion by 2020 already pledged by richer countries (81 percent of respondents in developing countries selected this answer, and 68 percent of those in industrialized nations), and a solid majority in both groups think that efforts of developing countries should partly depend on funding from developed ones.

Sign of the times: both groups agreed that richer developing economies should be treated as a third group (with bigger responsibilities than the poorest, least developed countries, but smaller responsibilities than developed ones) and should contribute to the Green Climate Fund, the UN financial mechanism recently entered in operation.

Citizens’ opinions thus reflected the substantial changes in the global balance of power that, compared to the Kyoto Protocol adopted in 1997, could lead to a well different climate regime after COP21.


This article was first published under ICCG International Climate Policy series, issue n.36, accessible in pdf format.


(Image: Paris Skyline. Photo credit: Taylor Miles/Flickr)