Global South Publics Embrace Radical Climate Solutions

New worldwide survey-based study shows that populations in the Global South are more supportive of emerging technologies to combat climate change than publics in advanced economies.

Innovative and even radical approaches to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reflect sunlight before it reaches the Earth’s surface are increasingly acknowledged as potentially indispensable in the run to reach the emission targets dictated by the Paris Agreement. Yet, to be soundly implemented these methods must resonate with citizenries around the world. In a study just published in Nature Communications, Chad M. Baum and colleagues have provided instrumental input to the ongoing discussion of the societal feasibility and desirability of these emerging climate-intervention technologies. 

By way of nationally representative surveys featuring more than 30.000 respondents in 30 countries, the Aarhus University researchers have examined public perceptions of a diverse set of climate intervention technologies. A main finding is that publics in the Global South are generally more supportive of the cutting-edge methods to tackle climate change than their Global Northern counterparts. According to Chad M. Baum a variety of factors explain this backing.

“Our results suggest that a range of climate beliefs are important, including how much a person expects to be harmed by climate change or has personal experience with major natural disasters. There is also evidence that the age of the country’s population is correlated with support, most of all for solar geoengineering approaches. There is something about living in a country with a younger population that matters and requires further attention, especially as the African century unfolds.  

The study represents a significant advance in the mapping of attitudes towards the technologies that are currently receiving massive attention in the scientific community. It stands out as the first piece of research to encompass respondents from all continents. Additionally, it is pioneering in its attempt to examine perceptions across the entire spectrum of methods, ranging from stratospheric aerosol injection to afforestation and direct air capture with storage. 

As University Distinguished Professor Benjamin K. Sovacool, a coauthor and PI of the GENIE project stated, “Until now researchers have almost exclusively focused on how publics in the US, the UK, and Germany view these options to counteract climate change, while populations in Asia, Africa, and South America have been overlooked. This is extremely problematic given that most of the world’s future climate impacts will befall the Global South, not the Global North, so better understanding how publics in those countries view climate interventions is of critical importance for both climate policy but also energy justice.” 

While the analysis reveals marked differences between the Global South and the Global North, it also attests to common ground. Chad M. Baum noted, “The groups agreed that afforestation and restoration efforts were most deserving of support. They were also both rejecting a more hands-on policy approach to the development of the technologies. This is interesting because harsh words have been exchanged in academic and policy circles on the necessity of international moratoria on the riskiest technologies or the introduction of a global-level market for carbon credits and offsets. Both consistently received the lowest support in our survey. They instead wanted to see information and engagement campaigns and policies that encourage research and development. In total, this speaks to a desire, particularly among those in the Global South, to engage with these novel technologies in a proactive way – though this by no means indicates that publics are blind to the risks that such options might pose.
The EU-funded GENIE (GeoEngineering and NegatIve Emissions pathways in Europe) project will explore the environmental, technical, social, legal, ethical and policy dimensions of greenhouse gas removal and solar radiation management. GENIE aims to produce a comprehensive scientific assessment for evidence-based policymaking to address climate change, and to expand our toolkit for a zero-emissions future.

You can read more about the article in Nature Communications here: