Global Report: Later is too late

We carried out one of the broadest and most comprehensive global message testing studies conducted on climate change — covering nearly 60,000 people across 23 countries — to understand how to motivate the public to accelerate climate progress. In every country, the narrative “later is too late” outperformed messages focused on economic opportunity, fighting injustice, improving health, or even preventing extreme weather.
But climate action at the scale needed to save the planet requires broad public support.
Later is too late to act on climate change.

To do that, we need to connect with people.
Potential Energy is a global, nonprofit marketing firm creating public demand for climate solutions. Over the past six months, in partnership with the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the Meliore Foundation, we carried out one of the broadest and most comprehensive global message testing studies conducted on climate change.

We tested multiple framings of 18 different policies with nearly 60,000 people across 23 countries — which collectively account for 70% of the world’s population — to answer these questions:
Does the world want action on climate?
How can we motivate the public to accelerate progress?

Here’s what we found.
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Global support for climate action is high, but the right messaging can make the difference.

An urgent, generational message moves people significantly across all countries

There is significant support for immediate government action on climate change in every country we surveyed. On average across the 23 countries in the study, 77% of people agree with the statement, “It is essential that our government does whatever it takes to limit the effects of climate change,” and just over 10% disagree.
But at the individual policy level, support can be a much closer call. If we understand and respond to what really motivates people, we can strengthen support even further, defend against resisting forces, and dramatically accelerate the climate transition.

The research shows that the right framing and messages increased public support for policy action in every country we studied. In randomized controlled trial message tests, the most effective narrative — the urgent generational message — lifted the level of global strong support for climate action by an average of 11 percentage points.
In every country in the study, the “later is too late” narrative outperformed messages focused on economic opportunity, fighting injustice, improving health, or even preventing extreme weather.

The US has the lowest support for climate policies in the G20.

The US trails behind the world on climate policy support

Although comprising 25% of historical carbon emissions and 25% of the world’s GDP, US citizens’ support for 18 climate policies is the lowest among all countries measured.
Notably, many countries at the bottom have higher political polarization and high fossil fuel intensity.

Polarization currently defines the US far more than other countries

Across 82 political parties in 23 countries, we are able to examine how different voters view pro climate policies. Of these 82 parties, only 6 parties don’t have majority support for pro climate policies.

“Limitation” is a losing argument.

The data clearly shows that framing is a key difference maker and can turn policy winners into losers. As an example, here are three ways to address building decarbonization, with a general ban positioning garnering 20 points lower support:

Framing can dramatically alter support for climate policies

Message

Support

Research shows that homes using gas have high indoor air pollution. We should ban the use of gas-powered appliances and heating/cooling systems in buildings.

54%

Research shows that homes using gas have high indoor air pollution. We should mandate that new buildings use the latest clean technology to ensure our health and safety.

70%

As better technologies come onto the market, we should require their use in all new buildings and construction. These smart upgrades ultimately save us in energy and money.

74%

Frames that included the words mandate, ban or phaseout on average had 9 points lower support (and in some cases, up to 20 points lower support) than those that did not. Framings that included ideas like upgrading, setting standards, making solutions accessible, and reducing dependency performed significantly better.
This finding is particularly important as climate policy advances from the “behind the scenes” territories like clean energy standards to the policies that more directly affect individual citizens’ lives – in their kitchens, homes, garages and farms. The one limitation that does work: pollution.

While broad support for climate action is high, support for specific policies varies from country to country.

While overall support for government action on climate is extremely high, support for specific climate policy framings, positioned head-to-head with an opposing argument, is a much closer call. We tested 18 policies, each framed in 3 different ways, across 23 countries (a total of 1,242 different tests.) The data shows significant variation by country. In the United States, for example, 45% support the end of fossil fuel extraction, while in Chile, 87% support a clean energy standard.

Policy support varies significantly by country

The data says that fear versus hope is the wrong debate. The big motivator is protecting what we love.
The data clearly showed that one message moves the whole world significantly: protecting the planet for the next generation.

While policy and political leaders often focus on messages like green jobs, economic prosperity, ending injustice and even fighting the costs of extreme weather, the data gives a clear signal that there is a better message to grow the overall size of support. Across every country, love for the next generation was the dominant reason for action on climate change. This reason was 12 times more popular than creating jobs.

Protecting the future for the next generation beats jobs by 12x

Despite clear differences in cultural context, stage of economic development, education on the issue, and energy infrastructure, people throughout the world are remarkably consistent on this point.

The world is united: it’s this generation’s responsibility

The message of generational urgency moved people across age groups, levels of education, income, political affiliation, and family status.

Global increase in strong support for immediate action

Later is too late. While the research shows that there is already a strong and broad consensus for immediate, increased government action on climate change, this doesn’t always translate into support for specific initiatives, opening the field to backlash and backsliding. The right framing and messaging are essential to achieving the policy gains that will save the planet for future generations.

Read the full study: Later is Too Late: A comprehensive analysis of the messaging that accelerates climate action in the G20 and beyond.
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