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(12/01/09) -

Americans Want to See Legally-Binding Treaty After Copenhagen

Most people think the U.S. government should ratify any agreement coming out of the Climate Summit.

Most people think the U.S. government should ratify any agreement coming out of the Climate Summit.

If countries meeting at Copenhagen, Denmark, for a Climate Summit this month reach an agreement on reducing polluting greenhouse gases, many Americans want the government to sign on to it, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found.

In the online survey of a representative national sample of 1,008 American adults, 44 per cent of respondents would like to see the Copenhagen meeting—which will run from Dec. 7 through Dec. 18—to result in a legally binding document in which all 170 nations attending will commit to reduce polluting emissions.

About a quarter of respondents (23%) would rather see Copenhagen resulting in a political compromise in which countries are allowed to deal with climate change individually and take action on a voluntary basis. Fifteen per cent of Americans would prefer to see no agreement at all.

Beyond wishful thinking, expectations on what will actually happen are low. Only 11 per cent of Americans expect the 170 nations represented at the Climate Summit to draft a legally binding treaty. One third (32%) foresee the meeting resulting in a lose, non-binding agreement, and 34 per cent think nothing will happen—no agreement will be reached at the summit.

A Potential Agreement

Countries attending the Copenhagen summit are supposed to draft a new agreement to replace the 1998 Kyoto Protocol for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, which is due to expire in 2012. The United States did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

If Copenhagen participants manage to draft a legally binding document, 49 per cent of Americans want the U.S. government to ratify it, while 16 per cent disagree. However, almost half of Americans (48%) reject having a document in which industrialized nations, including the U.S., would have to commit financial assistance to developing countries in order to help them implement programs and policies to reduce their carbon emissions.

Cap-and-Trade vs. Carbon Tax

The U.S. Congress is currently studying the possibility of implementing a cap-and-trade system in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Roughly half of Americans (49%) would support this initiative, but 32 per cent would oppose it. Support for a carbon tax is also relatively high, with 44 per cent of respondents saying that they would agree with its implementation in the U.S.—but 38 per cent would oppose it.

Importance of Climate Change

Climate change is a reality for 49 per cent of Americans, who say the phenomenon is caused by human activity through polluting vehicles and industries. A fifth of Americans either think climate change is happening, but see it as a natural occurrence (20%), or think it is an unproven theory (19%).

Most people agree that there is an urgency to fight climate change. A quarter of respondents say this is more pressing than fighting terrorism, while some people also think it is more urgent than combating the global financial crisis (21%), world hunger (20%), global poverty (20%), and HIV/AIDS (18%). A larger number of Americans think that curbing polluting emissions is at least just as urgent as fighting global poverty (41%), HIV/AIDS (41%), world hunger (40%), the global financial crisis (39%), and terrorism (33%).

Full Report, Detailed Tables and Methodology (PDF)


Mario Canseco, Vice President, Public Affairs
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