Far more Canadians than Americans believe climate change is real, according to a report produced by U.S. and Canadian think tanks.

The report, based on the results of two national surveys of public opinion on climate change, was to be released Wednesday by the Public Policy Forum and Sustainable Prosperity and their project partners.

Respondents on both sides of the border were asked their opinion on a range of issues on climate change, starting with whether they believed it was real.

In Canada, 80 per cent believe the science behind climate change, compared with 58 per cent in the United States, based on answers to the surveys' question: "From what you’ve read and heard, is there solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past four decades?"

Alex Wood of Sustainable Prosperity, a research and policy network at the University of Ottawa, says there's a message there for the federal government.

"Canadians continue to believe in very high numbers that climate change is a significant issue," Wood said. "They want to see federal leadership on the issue in terms of a policy regime that will set the course for Canada."

Government responsibility

That sentiment points to another difference discovered by the survey: Just 43 per cent of Americans believe their national government has a great deal of responsibility to address climate change. In Canada, 65 per cent of respondents believe the government has a role to play.

In fact, the poll suggests Canadians want to see all levels of government —from Parliament Hill to provincial capitals to city hall — do something about climate change.

And unlike Americans, Wood says, Canadians are willing to pay for it.  

"They believe carbon pricing is part of the necessary policy and they're not scared of it," Wood said.

The poll shows about twice as many Canadians as Americans support both a cap-and-trade system for industry and the idea of paying a carbon tax of up to $50 a month.

The Harper government has said it won't set up a cap-and-trade system without the United States, but Wood says the poll clearly shows Ottawa should reconsider.

The telephone survey was conducted using 916 randomly selected Americans from Nov. 15 to Dec. 9, 2010, and 1,214 Canadian respondents from Jan. 15 to Feb. 4, 2011. The survey's American findings are accurate to within three percentage points and the Canadian survey to within 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Regional numbers have a larger margin of error due to smaller sample sizes.

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(Public Policy Forum/Sustainable Prosperity/CBC)

Corrections

  • This story has been updated to reflect the full text of the two surveys' question about global warming.
    Feb 24, 2011 10:30 AM ET