Public perceptions of climate change are known to differ between nations and to have fluctuated over time. Numerous plausible characterizations of these variations, and explanations for them, are to be found in the literature. However, a clear picture has not yet emerged as to the principal trends and patterns that have occurred over the past quarter-century or the factors behind these changes. This systematic review considers previous empirical research that has addressed the temporal aspects to public perceptions. We address findings that have been obtained since the 1980s and using a range of methodologies. In this review, we consider early, seminal work examining public perceptions; survey studies carried out over long timescales and at an international scale, detailed statistical analyses of the drivers of changing perceptions; and qualitative research featuring a longitudinal component. Studies point to growing skepticism in the latter 2000s in some developed countries, underpinned by economic and sociopolitical factors. Even so, in many parts of the world, there has been growing concern about climate change in recent years. We conclude that the imbalance in the literature toward polling data, and toward studies of public perceptions in Western nations (particularly the United States), leaves much unknown about the progression of public understanding of climate change worldwide. More research is required that uses inferential statistical procedures to understand the reasons behind trends in public perceptions. The application of qualitative longitudinal methodologies also offers the potential for better appreciation of the cultural contexts in which climate change perceptions are evolving. WIREs Clim Change 2015, 6:35-61. doi: 10.1002/wcc.321 For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website. Conflict of interest: The authors have declared no conflicts of interest for this article.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Global and Planetary Change
- Geography, Planning and Development
- Atmospheric Science