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The relationship between climate change concern and national wealth


Based on a cross-national social survey, this paper ascertains how perception of climate change is related to national wealth and adaptive capacity across 33 countries. Results indicate that citizens of wealthier countries tend to see climate change as the most important problem, but are less likely to rank it as a highly dangerous threat. We find that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita correlates positively with perceived importance of climate change, but negatively with perceived risk. Also, climate change is less likely to be seen as highly dangerous in those countries that are better prepared for climate change. These findings have important implications for climate adaptation. The relatively weaker sense of danger among the wealthiest societies may eventually lead to maladaptation to climate change. Adequate economic resources provide people collective security and protection from impending crises, but could elevate a self-assuring attitude that might prematurely reduce their caution toward the impending threat and capacity for dealing with climate uncertainties.

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  1. 1.

    The Australian and Dutch data files were not downloadable from the ISSP’s public website but available from the program administrator upon request. Taiwan was excluded from our analysis, because it is not represented in the ND-GAIN Index and the World Bank’s database so that there is no energy use estimate for the country.

  2. 2.

    Available from

  3. 3.

    At the time of research, the World Bank database was not able to provide the GDP records for Argentina. The GDP estimate used in this study was solicited from the International Energy Agency (IEA, 2012).

  4. 4.

    The lack of statistical significance was found only between countries (i.e., national scores) but not within countries (i.e., personal scores), probably due to the ways that these scores were coded. A personal score of ‘0’ ignores the fact that climate change may still be regarded as a second important issue. National scores are expressed in the form of percentage of respondents and represent the general tendency within the entire country, and this procedure can more or less mitigate the ‘all or nothing’ bias in personal scores.

  5. 5.

    Cook’s distances permit exclusion of three statistically influential outliners, but this does not significantly affect the selection of optimal models and the correlations between variables. See Appendix for details.

  6. 6.

    Since the WVS surveys were completed between 2005 and 2007, we used the 2006 GDP per capita estimates available from the World Bank’s database for this analysis.

  7. 7.

    Taiwan and Andorra were excluded because they are not represented in the ND-GAIN Index (total N = 45)


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The authors thank the editors and the four anonymous reviewers of Climatic Change for their useful comments and suggestions. The generosity of the International Social Survey Programme for making the useful data openly available is highly appreciated. This material is based upon projects funded by the Griffith Climate Change Response Program at Griffith University and the NIFA/USDA under project number SC-1700489 as presented in Technical Contribution No. 6343 of the Clemson University Experiment Station.

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Correspondence to Alex Y Lo.

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Lo, A.Y., Chow, A.T. The relationship between climate change concern and national wealth. Climatic Change 131, 335–348 (2015).

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  • Climate Change
  • Gross Domestic Product
  • Risk Perception
  • International Energy Agency
  • World Value Survey