Global Trends 2020

Climate antagonism

Heatwaves, forest fires and extreme weather; school strikes organised by Greta Thunberg; and news that the Arctic permafrost is thawing decades earlier than predicted. These are just some of the reasons that 80% globally think we are heading for environmental disaster unless we change our habits quickly – a view steadily on the rise since 2013. The conversation has shifted from climate change to climate emergency, and this trend unites most people in a way little else does – but will it lead to action?

While climate emergency is our most intense global value in 2020, sentiment varies by country. More than 90% of people in emerging markets such as Indonesia, Turkey, Mexico, Peru and India agree we are heading for environmental disaster – many of them are witnessing rapid and massive environmental degradation. In contrast, less than two-thirds of the United States, Japan and the Netherlands agree. The biggest change of any market is in Great Britain, with an increase in those expecting environmental disaster from 59% in 2013 to 78% in 2019. What’s more, our analysis of social media across the US, UK, Australia and South Africa over the last year showed mentions of #climateemergency rise to be more than double that of #climatechange.51

While 82% globally agree that the climate change we are witnessing is largely the result of human activity, sentiment varies widely across the world

The past decade has seen a huge increase of pressure on our global ecosystems, and in turn people have started to become more active in scrutinising what businesses are or are not doing to actively repair our fragile planet. Eighty-two per cent globally agree that the climate change we are witnessing is largely the result of human activity. Emerging markets that are witnessing vast growth in industry see human activity as a driver of climate change: Indonesia, Colombia, Mexico and India all agree by more than 90%.

Polar bear with cubs

People now expect organisations to actively promote sustainability initiatives; ‘greenwashing’ will no longer pass muster. People are increasingly aware and educated, and expect organisations to be transparent in their behaviours. At least two-thirds (67%) in virtually every market agree that companies do not pay enough attention to the environment. The emphasis is on renewable energy, reduced plastic and meat consumption, shorter supply chains, and reforestation – but despite the actions of Extinction Rebellion and other movements, there is a very long way to go until we will see mass behaviour change on a large enough scale to make a difference.

There remains a trade-off between ethical consumption and convenience. Countries, companies and people are increasingly expected to do the right thing. It can be argued that, on an individual level, it’s never been easier to stop taking that plastic bag.

At the same time, this edition of Global Trends also sees a backlash across the west. Many are tired of environmentalism. More than a third (37%) globally say that they are ‘tired of the fuss that is being made about the environment’, and many of these are climate sceptic. There is a clear age divide on this. Thirty-nine per cent of 16-24-year-olds globally agree that ‘even the scientists don’t really know what they are talking about on environmental issues’ – compared to 53% of 60-74-year-olds. This may be a case of climate scepticism, or a belief in the power of technology to solve our problems and continue to provide convenience at any cost. In the face of widespread protests, there is also more assertive climate denial in many societies, linked to populist, anti-establishment movements, no matter what the science shows us.

In Global Trends 2020, we find tired of environmentalism is close to traditional nationalism when we map people’s views (see page 28). The 2020s will be a continual battle over the upheavals necessary to manage climate change.