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Questionnaire on Environmental Problems and the Survival of Humankind

This report summarizes the results of the 2019 Questionnaire on Environmental Problems and the Survival of Humankind, a survey conducted annually by the Asahi Glass Foundation since 1992. As in previous years, the Asahi Glass Foundation wishes to continue communicating the current thoughts and opinions of environmental experts around the world on the state of the global environment to as many people as possible.

Thanks to the cooperation of the participants, we received 2,072 responses to the questionnaire this year. (1,866 responses in 2018) We would like to express our gratitude for the opportunity to report once again this year on an environmental survey covering most regions of the world.

This year, the Environmental Doomsday Clock shows 9:46. Last year, it was 9:47, which remains the most advanced time indicated since the start of the questionnaire. The time this year is one minute earlier, but the sense of crisis is at the same level as then.
At the same time, introduced for the first time this year are questions about whether we perceive signs of improvement in terms of approaches to environmental issues, with consideration to “Public Awareness,” “Policies, Legal System,” and “Funds, Human Resources, Technologies, and Facilities” as elements of social infrastructure.
We received a large number of responses and almost half of respondents provided strong opinions and comments.
Please refer to the views and opinions of environmental expert from “Search Free Comments.“

At the Foundation, we sincerely hope that we can contribute to the resolution of environmental problems using this questionnaire to raise environmental interest among as many people as possible, not limited to environmental experts.

Once again, we extend our deepest gratitude to the respondents for taking the time to share their valuable opinions and experience through the survey. In closing, we appeal to readers of this report for advice on how to enhance the survey in the coming years.
The Asahi Glass Foundation
September 2019

I. Facts about the 28th Annual “Questionnaire on Environmental Problems and the Survival of Humankind”

Response periodQuestionnaires were sent out in April 2019 with a return deadline of June 2019.
Questionnaire respondent pool Environmental experts selected from members of government organizations, academic institutions, NGOs, corporations, and mass media (based on the Asahi Glass Foundation database).
Questionnaires mailed27,642
Questionnaires returned2,072
Response rate7.5%
Table 1. Breakdown of respondents by region, gender, and occupational affiliation:

*1 Unless otherwise noted, the questionnaire calculated as 100% the total number of responses received for questions where respondents were only asked to choose one item. For questions with multiple selections, the questionnaire calculated the percentages based on the number of times a valid response was given.

*2 Figures have been rounded to the first or second decimal places.

*3 Each question was calculated based on the number of responses to that question and not the number of questionnaires that were returned.

II. Summary of Questionnaire Results

1. Awareness of the Crisis Facing Human Survival —The Environmental Doomsday Clock

  • The average time of the Environmental Doomsday Clock for the whole world is 9:46, which is one minute earlier than last year. Last year’s time represented the highest sense of environmental crisis since the survey began in 1992, and this year’s results are virtually the same.
  • Overall, “Climate change” continued from last year to be the most frequently selected “Environmental issues to be taken into account” in determining the time on the Environmental Doomsday Clock. This was followed by “Biosphere Integrity (Biodiversity),” “Society, Economy and Environment Policies, Measures,” “Water Resources,” “Biochemical flows (Pollution/Contamination),” “Population,” “Lifestyles (Consumption Habits),”and “Land-System Change (Land Use).”
  • Overall, when arranging the top-ranked “Environmental issues to be taken into account” in descending order of severity on the Environmental Doomsday Clock, “Biosphere Integrity (Biodiversity)” had the most advanced time. It was followed by “Population,” “Lifestyles (Consumption Habits),” “Climate Change,” then “Society, Economy and Environment Policies, Measures,” “Water resources,” and “Biochemical flows (Pollution/Contamination).”
  • “Food,” which had significantly advanced since 2016, was 9:39, 33 minutes earlier than in 2018.

2. Awareness of Signs of Improvement in the Approach to Environmental Issues: Comparison with Prior to the Adoption of the Paris Agreement and the SDGs in 2015

  • We asked about awareness of signs of improvement in the approach to environmental issues under the categories of transition to a decarbonized society and “Environmental Issues to Be Taken into Account,” from the three perspectives of “Public Awareness,” “Policies, Legal System,” and social infrastructure, “Funds, Human Resources, Technologies, and Facilities.”
  • With regard to the transition to a decarbonized society, some signs of improvement were noted, but the results showed that the advances for “Policies, Legal System,” and social infrastructure, “Funds, Human Resources, Technologies, and Facilities” were less pronounced than for “Public Awareness.”
  • The items most commonly identified as showing signs of improvement were “Climate Change” at 25%, “Society, Economy and Environment, Policies, Measures” at 17%, and “Lifestyles” at 13%. The response “There are no sign of improvement at all” was at 17%.
  • There were characteristic differences depending on county or region with regard to the relationship between “Public Awareness” and “Policies and Legal System” for both responses.

III. Questionnaire Results

1. Awareness of the Crisis Facing Human Survival - The Environmental Doomsday Clock

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In Table2, “Environmental issues to be taken into account” are shown. Keeping in mind the problems that the environment faces at a global level, please select the three most pressing issues for the country or the region where you reside. Then, please rank them in the order of importance. Lastly, for each item, select a time using hours and minutes between 0:10 to 12:00, to indicate the level of crisis for that issue. For the purposes of calculating results, please select your times in units of 10 minutes.

About the calculation of the time on the Environmental Doomsday Clock
The time on the Environmental Doomsday Clock will be determined by taking the weighted average of the data. The issue ranked in first place will be weighted at 50%, second place at 30%, and third place at 20%.
In case of two valid responses, they will be weighted 62.5% and 37.5%, and 100% when it is only one.

A-1. The Environmental Doomsday Clock

Fig.1 Concern about Human Survival Prospects
  • The average time on the Environmental Doomsday Clock for all respondents was 9:46, which is one minute earlier than last year.

A-2. Shifts in the Environmental Doomsday Clock Based on Respondent Age (2011 - 2019)

  • Survey respondents over the age60 tended to report the latest times on the Environmental Doomsday Clock.
    There is a tendency for later times to be reported time to be later the older the respondent. Nevertheless the sense of environmental crisis among young respondents in their 20s and 30s was very high last year, while the time for those in their 40s and 50s remained largely same this year.
  • The sense of crisis among respondents over the age of 60 has continued to increase since 2015.

A-2-1. Shifts in the Environmental Doomsday Clock by Generation

  • The times reported by respondents over the age of 60, (the most advanced times of all age groups), remained stable between 9:28 and 9:36, until 2016. However, the clock has moved forward since 2017, reaching 9:57 this year.
  • The Environmental Doomsday Clock for respondents in their 40s and 50s has been stable around 9:30 since 2012, with this year being 11 minutes later than last year.
  • The Environmental Doomsday Clock for respondents in their 20s and 30s had been increasing from 8:34 (2011) until 2016, and reached about the same level as that for those in their 40s and 50s in 2016 and 2017. Because of the high sense of crisis among Chinese respondents in their 20s and 30s, it was 10:00 last year, but it is 20 minutes earlier this year.
Fig.4 Shifts in the Environmental Doomsday Clock by Generation

B. Environmental issues to be taken into account

B-1. Overall Analysis of the “Environmental Issues to Be Taken Into Account“

Graph 1-1-1. Overall(2019)
  • Looking at “Environmental issues to be taken into account” when determining the world’s overall Environmental Doomsday Clock time, “Climate Change” (30%) was the most frequently selected, as it was last year, followed by “Biosphere Integrity (Biodiversity)” (14%), “Society, Economy and Environment, Policies, Measures” (11%), “Water Resources” (10%), “Biochemical Flows (Pollution/Contamination)” (9%), “Population” (8%), “Lifestyles” (7%), and “Land System Change (Land Use)” (7%).
  • Likewise, in terms of “Environmental issues to be taken into account” for the whole world, “Biosphere Integrity (Biodiversity)” (9:58), “Population” (9:54), and “Lifestyles” (9:54) were ahead of the world average, followed by “Climate Change” (9:44), “Society, Economy and Environment, Policies, Measures” (9:41), “Water Resources” (9:41), and “Biochemical Flows (Pollution/Contamination)” (9:41).
  • In comparison with 2018, clock times for “Biosphere Integrity (Biodiversity)” “Land-System Change (Land Use)” and “Lifestyles” have advanced, while the sense of crisis for “Food,” “Population,” and “Climate Change” has gone down. (Graph 1-1-4).

B-2. Distribution of the Environmental Conditions of Concern (2012 - 2019)

Graph 1-1-4.

2.Awareness of Sign of Improvement in the Approach to Environmental Issues

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Do you see any signs of improvement in the approach to global environmental issues? Please answer these questions from the following three viewpoints in comparison with before 2015 when the Paris Agreement and SDGs were adopted.

With signs of improvement in the approach to environmental issues being seen in the context of the three elements “Public Awareness,” “Policies, Legal System,” and social infrastructure “Funds, Human Resources, Technologies, and Facilities,” we asked questions by category indicating the transition to a decarbonized society and each environmental issue.

We calculated averages by quantifying the replies as follows: -2 for “It definitely has not,” -1 for “It hasn’t really,” 0 for “Cannot say either way,” +1 for “It somewhat has,” and +2 for “It definitely has.”

We used samples of 30 or higher when calculating averages for regions and countries.

2-1 Do you think the society has been heading to decarbonized?

The world averages were as follows.
  • Public Awareness+0.52
  • Policies, Legal Systems+0.27
  • Funds, Human Resources, Technologies, and Facilities+0.32

Overall, there were some signs of improvement in the approach to the transition to a decarbonized society, but “Policies, Legal System” and social infrastructure “Funds, Human Resources, Technologies, and Facilities” had not advanced as much as “Public Awareness.”

The only places where the value for “Policies, Legal System” was negative were Japan, Australia, USA, Canada, Middle East Central America, and Western Europe (except UK), showing no improvements.

By contrast, the responses from China and Taiwan showed that rather than “Public Awareness,”“Policies, Legal System” had advanced. The same trends could be seen in responses from business people by occupation type.

What stood out is that “Public Awareness” yielded a positive value only in Central America and that “Cannot say either way” was the most frequent reply for all elements in Japan, while “There are no sign of improvement” was the most frequent in Korea.
Graph2-1-1. Decarbonaized Society, Average of Total, Area and Attribution

2-2 Where do you see signs of improvement? Please choose one category from the table 2 that shows a list “Environmental issues to be taken into account.”

The item most frequently selected for having signs of improvement was “Climate Change” at 25%, followed by “Society, Economy and Environment, Policies, Measures” at 17%, and “Lifestyles” at 13%. 17% responded “There are no improvements at all.”
Graph 2-2-2 shows the averages for all responses and the averages for countries and regions with samples of 30 or more with regard to “Climate Change,” which was selected most frequently.

The world averages were as follows.
  • Public Awareness+1.22
  • Policies, Legal Systems+0.65
  • Funds, Human Resources, Technologies, and Facilities+0.61

For “Public Awareness,” the world average exceeded the value for “There are perhaps some improvements.”
Although a relative comparison, it was especially high in Oceania, Western Europe, and then North America.
The responses from Japan had the lowest average.

For “Policies, Legal Systems,” all of Asia and especially China score higher than the world average, and it was relatively low in Oceania and USA&Canada despite the high “Public Awareness.”

For “Funds, Human Resources, Technologies, and Facilities” as social infrastructure, it was high for China and Western Europe, but low for South and Central America.

No graphs were made for the other items as there were too few samples per country and region.
Graph2-2-1. Signs of Improvement, Chosen Environmental Issues

Graph2-2-2. Signs of Improvement, Environmental Issues, Average of Total, Area and Attribution

Comment

As shown by the recent late time of the Environmental Doomsday Clock, environmental crisis awareness has reached its highest level since the start of this survey. Despite the critical situation, we conducted a survey involved environmental experts all over the world to gauge if there has been any improvements or if things are only getting worse. As a standard, we make a comparison with prior to the adoption of the International Framework Convention on Climate Change (Paris Agreement) and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015.
“Policies, Legal System” and social infrastructure “Funds, Human Resources, Technologies, and Facilities” differ depending on the circumstances in countries or regions, so we show the variance between the total and the local by including world averages and averages for countries or regions in one graph.

Looking at the advance of the transition to a decarbonized society in Q2-1, many results for so-called advanced countries were negative in that “Policies, Legal System” had not advanced as much as “Public Awareness,” but interestingly, in China and Taiwan, it seemed that “Policies, Legal System” has advanced more than “Public Awareness.”

For the items about signs of improvement in Q2-2, the order was “Climate Change,” “Society, Economy and Environment, Policies, Measures,” and “Lifestyles.” Likewise, “Climate Change” was also the item selected most frequently as important when thinking about environmental issues in Q1, so we can see a strong interest in the severity of the situation and the approach to make improvements.
Even so, “Biosphere Integrity (Biodiversity),” which was picked second most frequently in Q1 and is a primary factor in the advance of the Doomsday Clock, was only picked fifth in terms of whether signs of improvement can be seen, so we worry that there are few signs of improvement and that the situation has become more serious.

For the future, we will continue using these same questions for a while, and continue conducting this survey while paying attention to variance between world averages and those of countries and regions.

You might have found the questionnaire difficult to fill out, but we want to thank all responders for your help in providing comments and good answers.
No Category Examples of Observable Changes in the Country or the Region in which You Reside Planetary Boundaries (PB) Category by SDGs # (Sustainable Development Goals: SDGs)
1 Climate Change Global warming; CO2%, ocean acidification; climatic aberrations (droughts, torrential rains and flooding, severe storms, heavy snow, abnormal temperatures, desertification, etc.) Climate Change, Ocean Acidification, Atmospheric aerosol loading, Stratospheric ozone depletion
2 Biosphere Integrity (Biodiversity) Acceleration of species extinction rate; effects of contamination, climate change, land use Genetic diversity,
Functional diversity
3 Land-System Change (Land Use) Change in the amount of forest cover remaining at the tropical, temperate and boreal biomes.
Change in the amount of cropland
Land-system change
4 Biochemical flows (Pollution/Contamination) Increase in river, ocean and soil pollution: eutrophication caused by excessive nitrogen and phosphorus and contamination by microplastics and chemical substances; atmospheric pollution: particulates suspended in the atmosphere, soot and chemical substances Chemical Polution,
Nitrogen & Phosphorous Cycles
5 Water Resources Diminution of usable fresh water resources (depletion, contamination)
Control and degeneration of Green water quality (water contained in soil and used by plants)
Freshwater Use
6 Population Population growth beyond what the Earth can support; aging of the population Related with almost all the PB
7 Food Diminution of food supply from land and oceans Related with almost all the PB
8 Lifestyles (Consumption Habits) Transformation of lifestyles away from excessive consumption of resources like energy Related with almost all the PB
9 Society, Economy and Environment, Policies, Measures Establishing a Green Economy with environmental economics and accounting Environmental awareness at the individual and societal levels, progress of environmental education, Legal system, social foundation; poverty, governance; the status of women Related with almost all the PB
Planetary boundaries: Will Steffen, Katherine Richardson, Johan Rockstrom et.al. Science 13 Feb 2015 vol. 347, issue 6223

Free Comments

Search Free Comments

2019 Search Free Comments

Note) The written statements of the answers posted below are opinions of the individual respondents; and they don’t necessary represent the views of our Foundation.
We have included the name, country, and our identification number along with the comments, unless the respondent requested anonymity.

2019 Overall Analysis of the “Environmental issues to be taken into account”

2019 Awareness of Sign of Improvements in the Approach to Environmental Issues