The world’s leaders are gathering next week in Egypt for the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP27, hoping to galvanize the global community around climate change. But as new Edelman Trust Institute research shows, there are significant trust-related barriers to overcome. To succeed in the decade ahead, we need to move global institutions from reporting to rallying, to move beyond the inside game of annual ESG reports to an outside game that excites stakeholders about the possibility of economic growth with sustainability.

Our second annual Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust and Climate Change, a global survey of 14,000 people in 14 countries, finds that Business, normally the most trusted institution in the world, lags badly on sustainability. There is a public perception of promises made but not kept and CEOs are among the least trusted climate spokespeople. Government is more trusted than Business to do what is right in addressing climate change, based on unlimited financial resources and regulatory authority, but is hamstrung by the majority-held belief that politics, not science is driving climate policy. The consumer is on the sidelines, paralyzed by confusing data, concerned about a joyless future, and more convinced that current climate change solutions are positively impacting society than individuals.

Here are the key findings from the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust and Climate Change:

  1. Fears Escalate—More than three-quarters of respondents are worried about the effects of climate change, from drought to rising sea levels. This is universal across gender, income levels, and age groups. Seventy one percent say that we must move faster on climate issues. Two-thirds say that people will need to dramatically change their habits to address climate change; it can’t be done by institutions alone.
  2. Business Has a Trust Problem on Sustainability—Nearly two-thirds of respondents believe companies are doing mediocre or worse at keeping their climate commitments. CEOs are distrusted as spokespeople on climate – less than half of people (41 percent) trust them to tell the truth about climate change and what needs to be done to address it, nearly half as many as scientists/climate experts (76 percent) or a person like me (67 percent).
  3. Government Expected to Lead on Climate Change—National government has a stunning 22-point advantage over business (32 percent) when it comes to which institutions people think should lead on climate change. Government has a three-point trust advantage (56 percent to 53 percent) over Business in being trusted to do what is right in regard to climate. The most important driver of our respondents’ trust in Government is its performance on balancing climate action with the country’s present energy needs, enabling quality of life and prosperity — when it does this well, people are 10% more likely to trust Government to do what is right on climate. A majority of respondents (52 percent) globally believe climate policy in their country is driven by politics, regardless of what the science says. This could not be more timely, as Government is going to face added pressure to balance energy, quality of life, and climate needs as fuel costs mount this winter because of the Russian invasion in Ukraine.
  4. The Ugly Rise of Nationalism—There is huge skepticism about promises made by foreign nations on climate change; only 30 percent trust China and 31 percent trust India to do what is right on climate change. About two thirds of respondents worry that other countries will renege on their greenhouse gas reduction commitments. Yet within their borders, many nations believe they are already doing their fair share to fight climate change: 90 percent in China, 75 percent in India and Saudi Arabia, 52 percent in the U.S.
  5. China as a Ray of Light—There has been a giant increase in Chinese awareness of the urgency of the problem of climate change, with a 15-point rise year-over-year (to 66 percent) among those in China who believe there has been little to no progress made in the fight against climate change. Eighty six percent of Chinese respondents worry about climate change leading to droughts or other natural disasters (up 10 points), while 62 percent believe that science is driving climate policy rather than politics.
  6. NGOs Trusted but Not Expected to Lead Change—Non-Governmental Organizations face lower expectations to take the lead on climate change than Government or Business, at 26 percent. This is a sharp contrast to NGOs’ top rank among institutions on the matter of being trusted to do what is right in addressing climate change (61 percent). The solution for higher NGO trust is joint action with business on projects to improve climate.
  7. Consumers Are of Two Minds—Eighty five percent of respondents acknowledge a gap between their current lifestyle and the more climate-friendly approach they would like to have. But 70 percent are either doing nothing or will only do some things that do not cost extra money or cause inconvenience. Among those who say there is a gap between how climate friendly their lifestyle is and how they want it to be, the top cited reason is cost (80 percent), followed by uncertainty about which options are more climate-friendly (77 percent). Nearly a quarter of people say they would pay nothing more for green products (43 percent in France, 37 percent in Germany, 33 percent in the U.S.)
  8. Balance Societal and Individual Benefits—Current climate change solutions are more likely seen as having positive societal than personal benefits. Going green carries the perception for some nations that this requires giving up almost all activities that bring pleasure in life (China: 66 percent, India: 58 percent). We need to emphasize the personal benefits of climate action and show the advantages of a sustainable lifestyle by associating change with innovation.
  9. Media Failing to Make a Difference—Fifty nine percent of respondents tell us that there is not enough reporting about solutions to climate change. Sixty percent of respondents say that it is too difficult to find trustworthy information about climate change; nearly half said it is almost impossible to find climate information that is easy to understand. Only 46 percent trust journalists to tell the truth about climate change.

This special report on Trust and Climate is a wake-up call for Business to press beyond the reporting of CSR numbers and ESG commitments toward rallying stakeholders. It is on Business to fill the information gap for consumers desperate for data they can trust. It is on Business to create effective regulation with Government that accelerates the transition to a low- and ultimately no-carbon economy, at a cost acceptable to society and the planet. It is on Business to use its marketing muscle to enable cultural change and empower employees with resources and knowledge to support this transition. It is on CEOs to stand up to elected officials attempting to gain votes by politicizing ESG with the false equivalence of jobs versus climate.

A year ago, at COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland, Business took the bold step of a trillion-dollar fund to finance change. This year we need a similar commitment to wake the sleeping giant, the consumer, to believe they can make a difference and to show them the way.

Richard Edelman is CEO.