Climate Change, Infectious Diseases Seen as Biggest Global Threats

Seawater floods St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy, in April 2020. (AP photo)

(CN) — With the Covid-19 pandemic still a major threat worldwide, there is no surprise that people polled in 14 countries find the spread of infectious disease as a major threat to their nations. Perhaps more surprisingly, European countries included in the study listed climate change as the top-most threat.

The Pew Research Center surveyed 14,276 people across 14 countries about what they perceived to be the greatest global threats. Respondents reached by telephone between June 10 and Aug. 3, 2020, in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States were asked to rate whether issues were a major threat, a minor threat, or not a threat. Results were compiled and compared against similar national surveys from 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2013.

Across the world, 70% of those polled considered global climate change to be a major threat, while 69% considered the spread of infectious diseases to be a major threat.

In seven of the nine European countries surveyed, climate change was most frequently mentioned as a major threat. In the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Japan and South Korea, disease was the most frequently cited major threat.

Pew also asked respondents about terrorism, cyberattacks from other countries, nuclear proliferation, the global economy, global poverty, long-standing conflicts between countries or ethnic groups, and mass migration.

In the U.S., 78% of people ranked the spread of disease as a major threat, with 74% calling cyberattacks from other countries a major threat. Terrorism was considered a major threat by 69% of respondents, and 62% cited climate change as a major threat.

But in France, Spain and Italy, 83% of people considered climate change to be a major threat, compared to 78% of people in Spain, 74% in France and 69% of those in Italy who saw infectious disease as a major threat.

Fewer people in the countries surveyed are concerned about global poverty, long-standing conflict between countries or ethnic groups, or large-scale migration. Several years ago, the large numbers of refugees leaving nations such as Iraq and Syria were considered a top threat by many in Italy and the United Kingdom. Today, in 11 of the 14 countries surveyed, the movement of large numbers of people from one country to another is seen as the least concerning threat among the nine threats listed.

Concern about mass migration is somewhat split along political lines. In the U.S., 52% of those who describe themselves as conservative say that mass migration is a major threat, versus just 17% among self-described liberals.

Worldwide, people are concerned about the condition of the global economy. Majorities in 10 of the 14 countries polled describe the condition of the global economy as a major threat, a sharp increase since the question was asked in 2018. South Koreans were the most likely to be concerned about the economy, with 83% classifying the condition of the global economy as a major threat.

With the International Monetary Fund projecting that the global economy will contract by 4.9% in 2020, roughly 6 in 10 of respondents appear to share this gloomy outlook, describing the condition of the global economy as a major threat.

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