How Americans View Climate Change and Why Should the World Care?

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How Americans View Climate Change and Why Should the World Care?

This year saw extreme weather events that could have happened every decade or longer – record wildfires in Canada and Hawaii, catastrophic floods in Libya, and oppressive heat striking Europe and worldwide.

June through August 2023 marked the world’s hottest three-month period in recorded history, and the average global temperature in July was 2°F (1.1°C) hotter than last century’s average, according to the July 2023 Global Climate Report of the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Faced with these extreme events this year, has it changed people’s views on climate change, or has it created an urgency to act on it – to accelerate climate adaptation or mitigation projects?

According to the Pew Research Center, climate change remains a lower priority for some Americans. Their in-depth interview with 32 US adults shows that they are suspicious of the language used to describe climate change as a crisis and urgent threat and have doubts about the motivation of people making these claims.

Additionally, they “stressed the importance of respecting individual freedoms and choice in any energy transition. This theme was underscored by criticism of policies like ending the production of new gas-powered vehicles.”

The article notes that these interviews do not represent all US adults but provide a deeper insight into the motivations and views of those most sceptical about climate change.

Of the 32 respondents, 46% of Americans say human activity is the primary reason the Earth is warming, 14% say there is no solid evidence that climate change is happening, and 26% believe that natural environmental patterns cause warming.

Another Pew Research Center survey conducted in June 2023 on how Americans view climate change shows that two-thirds of US adults support prioritising the development of renewable energy sources. Generally, Americans are unwilling to phase out fossil fuels, but younger adults are more open to it.

Overall, 31% (1 in 3 adults) say that the country should completely phase out oil, coal, and natural gas, but 68% or more than twice, say that the country should use a mix of energy sources, including fossil fuels and renewables. The survey also notes that while most adults view climate change as a threat as a priority, it comes after strengthening the economy and reducing health care costs.

Regarding their views on participating in international efforts to reduce the effects of climate change, 74% are willing to support global efforts to address climate change. Regarding the country’s climate actions, Americans are equally divided in their views, with a third (around 36%) thinking that the USA is doing more than other large economies to mitigate the effects of climate change. In comparison, 30% say they are doing less, and 32% think the country is doing as much as others.

Why the US perspective on the climate change issue is important

The US is the world’s largest economy based on GDP and the second-largest carbon dioxide emitter, contributing about 13.5% of the global total. China comes on top, whose total carbon emissions account for 30.6% of the globe’s total emissions and more than twice as much carbon pollution as the United States.

However, looking at emissions dating back from 1959 through 2020, the Global Carbon Project data shows that the US, not China, is the biggest carbon polluter. The AP article says that since 1959, the US has put more than 334 billion tons (303 billion metric tons) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, about 21.5% of the global total, and China is in second place at 16.5%. Additionally, based on the amounts of emissions from the consumption of products, the US is at the top with 19.2% of the historic pollution from data dating back to 1990.

As the world’s largest economy and one of the top emitters, the United States is uniquely positioned to lead the world to act on climate change or set the direction and tone for the rest of the world to follow.

When Americans are asked where they think the right balance of responsibility in addressing climate change is, a majority (56%) say that the US should do as much as any other large economy to mitigate climate change. In comparison, 27% of them think they should do more. Regarding their view about providing financial assistance to help them expand renewable energy sources, most Americans (59%) say that the US does not have this responsibility (Tyson et al., 2023).

The world’s most prominent climate funder

In 2009, developed countries pledged to give $100 billion in climate finance annually to developing countries to help them deal with climate change. In 2019, the OECD estimated that developed countries mobilised $79.9 billion in climate finance. However, a new WRI research finds that most developed countries must contribute their fair share to meet the $100 billion climate finance target.

According to WRI, to meet the target, developed countries should give an amount equivalent to 0.22% of their gross national income (GNI). In absolute terms, the biggest economies, like Japan, Germany, the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, gave the largest amounts. Still, based on the percentage of their GNI, only Germany, France, and Japan gave over 0.25%. The US has the lowest provision of any developed country relative to its GNI, at 0.03%.

Based on the country’s GNI, the US fair share of the $100billion climate finance effort is between 40 billion and 47 billion (40% and 47% of the total) per year and the county’s contribution is short of at least $21 billion and up to $40 billion per year between what it provided in climate finance in 2018, according to WRI.

On 20 April 2023, at the Major Economies Forum, President Joe Biden announced that the United States will resume contributing to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), providing $1 billion. The GFC is the world’s largest international fund committed to helping developing countries address climate change.

Back at home, the US is also investing in climate action. President Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (“BIL”) into law two years ago on 15 November 2021. The BIL is a once-in-a-generation infrastructure investment directing $1.2 trillion of federal funds toward transportation, energy, and climate infrastructure projects.

On 16 August 2022, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law – the most significant investment in clean energy and climate action ever. A year after its implementation, it has shown positive signs. It has deployed historic investments in clean energy solutions, driving a wave of clean projects nationwide, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and mobilising private sector investment.

The NRDC notes that the US pledge of $1 billion to the Green Climate Fund helps advance American interest in four key areas.

  • First, it can bolster US jobs by creating clean technology export opportunities.
  • Second, it invests in countries vital to US national security interests, and the investment will also address the root cause of instability in these countries and regions.
  • Third, it Maintains US influence in the GCF. The article says the US played a significant role in the GCF’s establishment, design, and operations. But with its six-year hiatus in contributions, US influence has been put at risk.

As the US gets back on board, it will help maintain its role in sharing the GCF’s evolution and prevent influence from bad actors. Fourth, it spurs other countries to step up their investments.

The passing of the two significant legislations – the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act- will allow the country to unlock massive investments in clean technology, spurring actions to mitigate climate change, and embed climate resilience into its infrastructure investments domestically.


Record shattering: Earth had its hottest July in 174 years. (2023, 14 August). National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved from

Pasquini, C., Spencer, A., Tyson, A., & Funk, C. (2023, 9 August). Why Some Americans Do Not See Urgency on Climate Change. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from

Tyson, A., Funk, C., & Kennedy, B. (2023, 9 August). What the data says about Americans’ views of climate change. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from

Spencer, A., & Funk, C. (2022, 9 March). Americans largely support US joining international efforts to address climate change. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from

Bos, J., Gonzalez, L., & Thwaites, J. (2021, 7 October). Are Countries Providing Enough to the $100 Billion Climate Finance Goal? World Resources Institute. Retrieved from

USA Country Summary. (2023 1 November). Climate Action Tracker. Retrieved from

Thwaites, J. & Guy, B. (2023, 20 April). US Delivers for the Green Climate Fund and the World’s Most Vulnerable. NRDC. Retrieved from

Bertrand, S. (2022 September 12). How the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Work Together to Advance Climate Action. EESI. Retrieved from

Borenstein, S. (2022, 26 October). Climate Questions: Who are the big emitters? AP News. Retrieved from

President Biden to Catalyze Global Climate Action through the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate. (2023, 20 April). The White House. Retrieved from

Inflation Reduction Act: A Big Step Toward a Climate-Safe Future. (2022, 20 September). National Resources Defense Council. Retrieved from:

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