As the United States turns up the pressure ahead of the Biden administration’s virtual Leaders Summit on Climate, Australia is already drawing attention as a high-income economy without a net zero emissions target. A senior Biden administration official today explicitly called out Australia’s efforts as ‘insufficient’ in a preview ahead of tomorrow’s summit.

New polling by the United States Studies Centre (USSC) shows Australians overwhelmingly support action on climate change as foreign policy but far fewer agree it requires more domestic action.

"We are proud to publish this analysis by the Centre's new Data Insights Research Associate, Sarah Hamilton, in which she provides a timely examination on such a critical issue in the US-Australia relationship," says USSC CEO Professor Simon Jackman.

The polling gathered data from 1,183 Australians and 1,186 Americans in late January 2021 and canvassed public sentiment on climate change, asking respondents if and how it should be addressed. 

“A majority of Australians and Americans rate action on climate change as an important foreign policy goal, but Australians rate 12 points higher than the United States on the issue,” Professor Jackman highlights.

The data showed 80 per cent of Australians think dealing with climate change is a “fairly” or “very important” foreign policy goal, compared to only 68 per cent of Americans.

"Australian support for doing more on climate change wanes when it gets closer to home, with only 50 per cent in favour. As in many countries, Australians want to see greater action on climate change, just not in their own backyard,” Professor Jackman explains.

The polling found only 32 per cent of Coalition voters support domestic efforts against climate change, compared to 67 per cent of Labor voters. These attitudes were fairly entrenched. When framed alongside international peer pressure, there was no significant increase in support for domestic climate change mitigation.

“As Biden is fond of saying, it will be the power of the example set by the United States — rather than the example of American power — that galvanises global policy and opinion,” notes Professor Jackman, “If, and when, Australians see the results of initiatives like Biden’s massive electric vehicles proposal and others bearing fruit, then Australians may ask their government 'then why not here, too?'”

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Key points

  • The majority of Australians (80 per cent) agree action on climate change is an important foreign policy goal, compared to 68 per cent of Americans.
  • Australians are 30 per cent more likely to support climate change action in foreign policy than in domestic policy.
  • Overt international pressure on Australia to act on climate change is unlikely to move Australian public opinion.
  • Coalition voters are less supportive of Australia taking greater action on climate change (32 per cent) compared to their Labor counterparts (67 per cent).
  • However, Coalition voters are slightly more likely to change their mind due to international pressure.
  • Americans are polarised on climate change itself and Australians are divided on how to act on combating climate change.

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