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Opinion
Adam Minter

The World Needs Chinese to Care About Climate Change

Surprisingly few say they’re concerned, which doesn’t bode well for China’s efforts to meet its Paris commitments. 

Pollution fatigue has set in. 

Pollution fatigue has set in. 

Photographer: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

The world's biggest emitter of climate-changing carbon is China, but Chinese people don't seem overly worried. According to a first-of-its-kind national survey, only 14.2% of Chinese said they were "very seriously concerned" about global warming and climate change. Not surprisingly, such concerns declined in areas economically dependent upon carbon-intensive industries.

That's a problem. The world is counting on China to meet its ambitious commitments under the Paris Agreement. But the fact is that over the last two decades, China's most effective environmental campaigns have been grassroots and citizen-led. Where public pressure is weak, the government's actions often fail to match its rhetoric, especially when economic needs take priority. Without greater public engagement, China’s rosy projections about reducing emissions must be viewed skeptically.