(Reuters) - China’s massive pollution problems have given rise to a new force of environmental campaigners, different politically from middle class activists in the West and potentially more effective in tackling climate change, new research finds.
In Europe, financial crisis has knocked environmental policy down the political agenda and populist movements see environmentalism as a hobby of European elites.
Meanwhile in the United States, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks pushed energy security to the top of the political agenda.
But in China, the world’s biggest polluter, some 64 percent of Chinese identify themselves as environmentalists, more than double that of Europe and the United States, a report published on Wednesday by Dutch research agency Motivaction finds.
Motivaction interviewed more than 48,000 consumers in 20 countries about their values and behavior, through online surveys.
Not only are many more people in China describing themselves as environmentalists, they also have a very different profile from climate champions in the West.
The report finds they tend to be socially conservative, devoted to family and traditional Asian values, and pro-business groups who believe strongly in the role of technology to solve the world’s problems.
In contrast, the United States and Europe have developed a “cosmopolitan environmentalism”, a movement supported frequently by liberal, highly-educated and politically active groups.
The Chinese-style environmentalists have a much greater sense of urgency as they experience, for example, the choking pollution of Beijing, and the new report concludes multinational companies need to understand how to harness their potential.
Already China is the world’s biggest investor in green technology, which the report says can give it a competitive advantage as innovative companies tend to thrive.
China, which is blamed for nearly a third of the world’s carbon emissions, is also pressing ahead with investment.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang “declared war” on pollution in March after an official Chinese report dubbed Beijing “barely suitable” for living due to hazardous smog. China pledged to spend $1.65 billion to combat air pollution and $330 billion on water shortage. [ID:nL3N0LI023]
There is still a big challenge to persuade China to sign up to a new global deal on tackling climate change, hoped for at a U.N. summit in 2015.
European environmentalists have tended to see the Chinese government as a roadblock to an international climate deal.
However, when spurred by its own growing population of environmentalists threatening social unrest over levels of pollution, it can act more decisively than Western coalitions.
“When the Chinese government decides to do something, they do it,” says Kathryn Sheridan, CEO of a Brussels-based sustainability communications consultancy. “It’s not the talking shop that we see in Europe.”
Editing by Barbara Lewis and Michael Perry