Academic Publication

Climate anxiety in children and young people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change: a global survey

Authors:
Caroline Hickman, MSc
Elizabeth Marks, ClinPsyD,
Panu Pihkala, PhD,
Prof Susan Clayton, PhD,
R Eric Lewandowski, PhD,
Elouise E Mayall, BSc,
Britt Wray, PhD,
Catriona Mellor, MBChB,
Lise van Susteren, MD
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Publication Year:
2021
  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-Being
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Summary

Background

Climate change has important implications for the health and futures of children and young people, yet they have little power to limit its harm, making them vulnerable to climate anxiety. This is the first large-scale investigation of climate anxiety in children and young people globally and its relationship with perceived government response.

Methods

We surveyed 10 000 children and young people (aged 16–25 years) in ten countries (Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Portugal, the UK, and the USA; 1000 participants per country). Invitations to complete the survey were sent via the platform Kantar between May 18 and June 7, 2021. Data were collected on participants’ thoughts and feelings about climate change, and government responses to climate change. Descriptive statistics were calculated for each aspect of climate anxiety, and Pearson's correlation analysis was done to evaluate whether climate-related distress, functioning, and negative beliefs about climate change were linked to thoughts and feelings about government response.

Findings

Respondents across all countries were worried about climate change (59% were very or extremely worried and 84% were at least moderately worried). More than 50% reported each of the following emotions: sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty. More than 45% of respondents said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning, and many reported a high number of negative thoughts about climate change (eg, 75% said that they think the future is frightening and 83% said that they think people have failed to take care of the planet). Respondents rated governmental responses to climate change negatively and reported greater feelings of betrayal than of reassurance. Climate anxiety and distress were correlated with perceived inadequate government response and associated feelings of betrayal.

Interpretation

Climate anxiety and dissatisfaction with government responses are widespread in children and young people in countries across the world and impact their daily functioning. A perceived failure by governments to respond to the climate crisis is associated with increased distress. There is an urgent need for further research into the emotional impact of climate change on children and young people and for governments to validate their distress by taking urgent action on climate change.

 

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