Climate Change And Terrorism Seen As Primary Threats Worldwide


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

Climate change is second on the list, just behind terrorism. Justin Vldamo/Flickr; CC BY 2.0

What are you afraid of? Everyone’s afraid of something, whether that be crime, death, heights, spiders, or clowns. Something that everyone – particularly the poorest members of society – should fear is climate change. Unlike plenty of other concerns, this one is actually a serious, existential threat.

Fortunately, according to a new global survey, much of the world has recognized that looming shadow of climate change. As reported by Pew Research, 61 percent of nearly 42,000 people across 38 countries consider the man-made phenomenon to be one of the greatest threats to their lives – just behind ISIS, which ranked at 62 percent.


The top eight perceived threats are as follows:

1 – ISIS (62 percent)

2 – Global climate change (61 percent)

3 - Cyber attacks from other countries (51 percent)


3 – Condition of the global economy (51 percent)

5 – Refugee movements from Iraq, Syria and similar (39 percent)

6 – US power and influence (35 percent)

7 – Russia’s power and influence (31 percent)


7 – China’s power and influence (31 percent)

Before we go into actual threat risks versus the perceived risks here, let’s look at the breakdown between the different countries. As a caveat, the ISIS statement was not tested in Turkey, the US statement was not tested in America and the Russia statement was not tested in Russia.


The terrorism threat was ranked #1 in 18 countries spread across Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and the United States. In 13 countries, mostly throughout Latin America and Africa, climate change is the #1 threat.

The results throw up some interesting results that suggest that the political climate of a country also affects how seriously it takes climate change as a threat. Canada and Mexico, for example, ranks climate change as the top threat, but – perhaps unsurprisingly – America sees ISIS as being more threatening.


In America, ISIS (74 percent) is ranked above cyber attacks (71 percent), which is then followed by climate change (56 percent). Intriguingly, Spain shows the greatest proportion of people ranking climate change as the top threat (89 percent), whereas just 35 percent of Russians feel the same – the lowest on the list.

Overall, it seems that those on the ideological right are more concerned about terrorism and refugees; those on the left are far more concerned about climate change – something that’s observed in other surveys, particularly in the US and Europe.

It’s worth pointing out that, at least in most countries around the world – especially places like Japan, the UK and the US – the actual risk of being a victim of a terrorist attack is extremely low. In fact, in America, you’re more likely to be killed by almost anything else. The risk from terrorism is one-in-5 million, magnitudes lower than the risk of being killed by a firearm, a traffic accident or a heart attack.

Climate change is the most genuinely threatening inclusion on that list. It’s the problem that will make everything worse. It will trigger new conflicts, deadly droughts and famines, sink entire cities, and create climate refugees all over the planet, from the Middle East and South Asia to America’s own shores.


Air pollution – something inextricably linked to climate change – kills tens of millions of people every single year, more than anything else on that list.


As aforementioned, poorer people are disproportionately affected, but wealth cannot save you from the exacerbated sea level rise, nor can it effectively shield you from an impending economic collapse.

Make no mistake, it’s the crisis everyone should be worried about, so its high ranking in this survey comes as somewhat or a relief, in the sense that – for once – perception and reality align, to a degree.


  • tag
  • climate change,

  • risk,

  • survey,

  • terrorism,

  • Probability,

  • threat,

  • versus,

  • perceived,

  • actual,

  • Pew Research