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Steam billows from the cooling towers of a brown coal power station in eastern Germany on Dec. 2.

There is strong support for governments to take an ambitious approach to climate change negotiations in Copenhagen, according to a poll commissioned by the BBC World Service.

On average, 44 per cent of the 24,071 people polled in 23 countries want their governments to "play a leading role in setting ambitious targets to address climate change" in Denmark, according to the poll conducted by GlobeScan between June 19 and Oct. 13.

Another 39 per cent want their government to "adopt a more moderate approach and support only gradual action," while only six per cent want their government to oppose any deal.

The poll, which conducted interviews either face-to-face or by telephone, has a margin of error per country of plus or minus 2.2 per cent to 4.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20, GlobeScan said.

Climate negotiators and political leaders from 192 countries, including Canada, have gathered in Copenhagen for the 12-day summit that begins Monday to try to reach a climate deal that would replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

The poll also indicated that, despite the global recession, an average of 61 per cent surveyed support their governments making investments to address climate change, even if these investments hurt the economy.

Nearly two-thirds of those polled say climate change is a "very serious" problem.

However, the poll found that public opinion in the world's two largest emitters of carbon dioxide is more ambivalent. While the Chinese are the most likely to support government investments to address climate change with 89 per cent in favour, only 52 per cent of Americans feel the same way.

Forty-five per cent of Americans and 57 per cent of Chinese people view climate change as "very serious," which are below the 23-country average of 64 per cent.

Support for strong role in Denmark

Majorities in major European nations support their government playing a strong leadership role in Copenhagen:

  • 62 per cent in the United Kingdom.
  • 57 per cent in France.
  • 55 per cent in Germany.

Other governments being pressed by their citizens to show leadership include:

  • 61 per cent in Canada.
  • 57 per cent in Australia.
  • 57 per cent in Japan.
  • 53 per cent in Brazil.

Countries whose citizens are keenest for their governments to play leadership roles in setting ambitious targets at the summit are Canada, Kenya and the U.K. at 61 per cent, 61 per cent and 62 per cent, respectively.

Developing countries were generally more cautious in the approach they were looking for their governments to play. About one-third in countries such as India, Pakistan and the Philippines and about one-quarter in Indonesia support their governments seeking ambitious targets in Copenhagen.

Outright opposition to a deal was limited to small minorities in all survey countries. The countries with the highest proportions of those opposing any international agreement were the United States (14 per cent), Brazil (12 per cent) and Pakistan (12 per cent).