After 2018 saw unprecedented extreme weather events , such as heatwaves, storms and floods across the globe, climate change and environmental threats dominate the list of biggest risks facing our world. Climate change, however, is just one of many concerns. Terrorism and cyberattacks are also seen by many as major security threats.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report last year expressing serious concerns about the possible impacts of climate change, both in the near and distant future. Broadly speaking, people around the world agree that climate change poses a severe risk to their countries, according to a 26-nation survey conducted in the spring of 2018. In 13 of these countries, people name climate change as the top international threat.
But global warming is just one of many concerns. Terrorism, specifically from the Islamic extremist group known as ISIS, and cyberattacks are also seen by many as major security threats. In eight of the countries surveyed, including Russia, France, Indonesia and Nigeria, ISIS is seen as the top threat. In four nations, including Japan and the United States, people see cyberattacks from other countries as their top international concern. One country, Poland, names Russia’s power and influence as its top threat, but few elsewhere say Russia is a major concern.
Many people also express fears about North Korea’s nuclear program, but in none of the 26 countries do people rate it as one of their top two concerns (even in neighboring South Korea).
Fewer still rate the condition of the global economy as their top international concern, although it remains a pertinent issue in many countries, especially in places where ratings for the national economy are overwhelmingly negative, such as Greece and Brazil.
And while a median of less than half across the nations in the survey say the influence of the U.S. is a major threat to their countries, more people now say it is a threat than in 2013 and 2017. Indeed, in 10 countries, roughly half or more now claim that American power is a major threat to their nation – including 64% who say this in Mexico, where ratings for the U.S. have turned sharply negative since the election of President Donald Trump.
At the bottom of the threats list is China’s power and influence, although roughly half or more in South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Australia and the U.S. name China as a major threat.
These are among the findings of a Pew Research Center survey conducted among 27,612 respondents in 26 countries from May 14 to Aug. 12, 2018.
Changing threats in a changing world
There have been substantial changes over time on many of the eight international threats asked about in the 2018 survey. For example, in 2013, well before the Paris climate agreement was signed, a median of 56% across 23 countries surveyed said global climate change was a major threat to their country. That climbed to 63% in 2017, and in 2018 it stands at 67%.
Since 2013, worries about the climate threat have increased significantly in 13 of the countries where data are available. The biggest increases have been in France (up 29 percentage points) and Mexico (up 28 points), but there have been double-digit rises in the U.S., UK, Germany, Spain, Kenya, Canada, South Africa and Poland as well.
In 2013, a little less than half across the countries surveyed said North Korea’s nuclear program was a major threat (47%). But in 2018, a median of 55% name the issue as a major threat. Worries about the nuclear threat have risen substantially in many countries over the past five years, especially in the countries surveyed across Africa and Latin America.
There has also been a substantial jump in those who see cyberattacks from other countries as a top threat. In 2018, a median of 61% across the countries see cyberthreats as a serious concern, up from 54% who said this in 2017.
In the past few years there have been multiple headline-grabbing cybersecurity breaches in places as varied as the U.S., Japan and South Africa. Since 2017, there have been double-digit rises in those saying cyberattacks from other countries are a major threat to their country in Tunisia (up 25 percentage points), the Netherlands (+15 points), Greece (+12), Sweden (+11) and Canada (+10).
Meanwhile, there has been a decrease since 2017 in the number of countries that see ISIS as the top security threat. Substantial double-digit declines among those saying ISIS is a major threat occurred over the past year in Israel (down 16 points), Spain (-13), the U.S. (-12), Greece (-10) and Japan (-10).
Views on the global economy and China as major threats have remained roughly the same since 2017.
The largest change in sentiment among the global threats tracked are for those who see U.S. power and influence as a major threat to their countries. In 2013, only a quarter across 22 nations saw American power as a major threat to their country, but that jumped substantially to 38% in 2017, the year after Trump was elected president, and to 45% in 2018.
In fact, in 18 of the 22 countries surveyed in both 2013, when Barack Obama was the U.S. president, and 2018, there has been a statistically significant increase in those who name the U.S. as a major threat. This includes increases of 30 percentage points in Germany, 29 points in France and 26 points in Brazil and Mexico.
There is also a strong connection between seeing America as a threat and lack of confidence in U.S. President Donald Trump. In 17 of the countries surveyed, people who have little or no confidence in the U.S. president are more likely than those who do have confidence in Trump to name U.S. power and influence as a top threat. This difference is most acute among America’s traditional allies, such as Canada, the UK and Australia, where overall views of the U.S. and its president have plummeted in recent years
In Europe and North America, many name climate change as top threat, but ISIS and cybersecurity are also pressing issues
Across the 10 European countries surveyed, climate change and ISIS are clearly seen as major international threats, although a median of about half or more also name cyberattacks and North Korea’s nuclear program as top concerns.
Russia’s power and influence is seen as a major threat by a median of four-in-ten across the continent, about the same share that sees U.S. power and influence as a threat (median of 37%). Meanwhile, only 35% see the condition of the global economy as a major threat, as European countries have mostly recovered from the Great Recession and subsequent euro crisis. A median of 31% see China as a major threat.
In terms of individual nations surveyed within Europe, majorities in every country name climate change and ISIS as major threats to their countries. However, six of these countries offer climate change as the top concern, while only two name ISIS. In the Netherlands, more people say cyberattacks from other countries is the top threat, while in Poland, more say Russia’s power and influence is their major international concern.
And while few across Europe say the condition of the global economy is a major threat to their country, 88% in Greece do. Despite some rising concerns about American power and influence, no more than half in any European country say U.S. power is a major threat, although nearly half hold this view in France (49%), Germany (49%) and Greece (48%).
Since 2013, there has been a significant increase in the share naming climate change a major threat in seven of the European countries surveyed in both years. This includes a 29-percentage-point increase in France, an 18-point increase in the UK, 17 points in Spain and 15 points in Germany.
There are some notable differences between American and Canadian views about the top threats facing their countries. Americans are chiefly concerned about cyberattacks, although majorities also see ISIS (62%), climate change (59%) and North Korea’s nuclear program (58%) as major threats. Since 2017, worries about ISIS are down 12 percentage points among Americans.
By contrast, more Canadians say global climate change is a major threat to their country than say the same about cyberattacks (57%) or ISIS (54%). Cybersecurity has grown as a concern in Canada since 2017, when fewer than half (47%) said it was a major threat.
Russians are relatively untroubled by cyberattacks from other countries (only 36% say it is a major threat) but are concerned about ISIS (62% major threat). Generally, Russians are among the least concerned about all the various threats tested in the survey relative to other countries.
Partisan and ideological divides on climate and terrorism threats
On a variety of threats, but especially on climate change and ISIS, there are sharp ideological and partisan divides in Europe and North America.
For example, in the U.S., Republicans and those who lean toward the Republican Party are 56 percentage points less likely to believe that global climate change is a major threat to their country than are Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party. While this partisan divide is substantial, it is not unique.
In Europe, supporters of some right-wing populist parties are less concerned than others about climate change. For instance, those with a favorable view of Alternative for Germany (AfD) are 28 percentage points less likely to say that climate change is a major threat to their country than those who do not support that party. Double-digit differences on this issue also appear between supporters and nonsupporters of UKIP in the UK, National Front (now National Rally) in France, the Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands, and the Sweden Democrats in Sweden.
There are also strong ideological divides on the threat perceptions of climate change and ISIS across Europe and North America. In nine of the 12 European and North American countries surveyed, those on the ideological left are more concerned about the threat of global climate change than those on the right. This is especially the case in the U.S., where nearly nine-in-ten (87%) among those on the left say global warming is a top concern, versus only 31% on the right who say this.
Conversely, those on the political right in Europe and North America are often more concerned about ISIS than are those on the left. This includes ideological differences of more than 20 percentage points in the Netherlands, Canada, the U.S. and Sweden on the ISIS threat.
A slight education divide on the threat of climate change exists in many European and North American countries surveyed, where those with more education are more inclined to say it is a threat than those with less education. In contrast to worries about climate change, in eight countries, those with less education are more likely to say ISIS is a major threat than their more-educated counterparts.
Women in many countries surveyed are also more concerned about the threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program than are men. Overall, double-digit differences between men and women on the North Korean threat appear in nine of the countries surveyed in Europe and North America, with the biggest gap in Sweden.
In seven countries, women are more concerned about climate change than are men. In Poland, 61% of women name it as a major threat, compared with 48% of men. Women are also generally more worried than men about the ISIS threat (this is true in 10 countries in North America and Europe).
On the risk posed by ISIS, there are significant age divides in many of the countries surveyed. For example, in Germany, 78% of those ages 50 and older are worried about the ISIS threat, compared with only 42% among 18- to 29-year-old Germans.
In Asia-Pacific, a variety of threats are of concern, but cyberattacks and climate change are pre-eminent
Across the five Asia-Pacific countries surveyed, cyberattacks, climate change and ISIS are all mentioned as top concerns by at least one country. In Japan, it is cyberattacks, while in South Korea and Australia, it is climate change. ISIS is named as the top threat in the Philippines and Indonesia, nations where Islamic extremist violence has occurred frequently over the past 15 years.
Asia-Pacific publics also express concern about North Korea’s nuclear program and China’s power and influence. In South Korea, more rate China’s power as a major threat (82%) than the DPRK’s nuclear program (67%). Since 2013, concern about North Korea has fallen substantially in South Korea, from 82% in 2013 to 67% in 2018. Over that time, perceptions of China as a threat have grown in four of the nations surveyed in the region, particularly in Australia (up 20 points) and Indonesia (up 16).
Climate change and ISIS rank as top threats across Latin America, Africa and the Middle East
Among the three Latin American countries surveyed, global climate change continues to rank as the top concern, extending an established trend. Eight-in-ten Mexicans say climate change is a major threat, marking an 8-percentage-point increase from 2017 and a 28-point increase since the question was first asked in 2013. Almost three-quarters of Argentines (73%) and Brazilians (72%) name climate change as a major threat.
Education plays a significant role in how Latin American respondents evaluate the climate change threat. In Brazil, for example, more than eight-in-ten (84%) of those with a secondary education or higher say climate change is a major threat, compared with 62% of those with less education – a 22-point difference. Additionally, 85% of Brazilians in the ideological center are concerned about climate change, versus 74% of those on the left and 69% among the ideological right.
Majorities in the Latin America region express significant concern about the condition of the global economy. More than six-in-ten in all three countries surveyed there name it a large threat, making it the second-highest concern in Argentina and Brazil and the third-highest in Mexico. Half or more of people in these nations also see North Korea’s nuclear program and cyberattacks from other countries as major threats.
The three sub-Saharan African countries surveyed express distinct top concerns. ISIS stands out as the greatest threat in Nigeria, where the ISIS-affiliated terrorist groups Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa have a strong presence. About six-in-ten (61%) categorize the group as a major concern, an 8-point increase since the question was first asked in 2016.
In Kenya, where droughts and extreme weather events have negatively affected agriculture, the public feels most threatened by global climate change (71%). This is true across gender, age, income and education groups. Majorities also see ISIS, cyberattacks, the global economy and North Korea’s nuclear program as major threats.
For South Africans, cyberattacks from abroad are considered most threatening; 61% categorize them as a large threat. Climate change closely follows as a significant concern, with roughly six-in-ten respondents (59%) naming it as a major threat. Education and income are linked to concern about climate change in South Africa: Those with more education or incomes higher than the median are more likely to see climate change as a major threat.
Across the Middle Eastern, sub-Saharan African and Latin American countries surveyed, there are a variety of international concerns, but generally, climate change and ISIS are seen as top threats.
In both Tunisia and Israel, ISIS is considered the top threat. Roughly eight-in-ten Tunisians (81%) see the militant Islamic group as a major threat. They are additionally apprehensive about the condition of the world economy, cyberattacks and climate change. About six-in-ten (61%) also say U.S. power and influence are a major threat to their country.
Israelis also see ISIS as the top international threat among those tested. However, only 47% label it a major threat, illustrating Israel’s relatively low level of concern about all threat items tested. Roughly four-in-ten see cyberattacks (42%) and climate change (38%) as pressing threats.
Jewish Israelis are more likely than the country’s Arabs to be worried about North Korea’s nuclear program, ISIS, cyberattacks from other countries and the condition of the global economy. On the other hand, Arabs are more likely to categorize U.S. power and influence as a large threat.
Ideology also affects how Israelis perceive global threats. Israelis on the ideological right are more likely than those on the left to see North Korea’s nuclear program (42% vs. 21%) and ISIS (53% vs. 36%) as major threats. Those on the right are also less concerned about climate change (32% vs. 46%) and the condition of the global economy (35% vs. 49%) than are those on the left.
Compared with concerns about Russian or Chinese influence, worries about U.S. power and influence are relatively high in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Tunisia. More than half in these countries say U.S. power is a major threat to their country. By comparison, concerns about the U.S. are relatively lower in sub-Saharan Africa and Israel. In none of these countries does a majority express concern about Russian or Chinese power.
Apprehension about U.S. power has also increased over time in these countries. In Brazil, Mexico and Tunisia, concerns have gone up by more than 25 percentage points from 2013 to 2018. Worries have increased the least in Israel (up 6 points).