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Climate change ranks highest as vital issue of our time - Generation Z survey

    December 09, 2019
    • Climate change was the most commonly cited among most important issues facing the world, in a survey of more than 10,000 young people, including Canadians
    • Young people living inside a “failed system”, warns Amnesty International
    • Leaders will face a “growing legitimacy crisis” unless they protect rights of young people

    Climate change is one of the most important issues facing the world, according to a major new survey of young people from around the world, including Canada, published by Amnesty International today to mark Human Rights Day.

    With the findings published as governments meet in Spain for the UN Climate Change Conference, the organization warns that world leaders’ failure to address the climate change crisis has left them out of step with young people.

    “In this year when young people mobilised in huge numbers for the climate, it can be no surprise that many of those surveyed saw it as one of the most important issues facing the world,” said Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International. 

    “For Generation Z the climate crisis is one of the defining challenges of their age. This is a wake-up call to world leaders that they must take far more decisive action to tackle the climate emergency or risk the further anger of young people.”

    Ipsos MORI, on behalf of Amnesty International, questioned more than 10,000 people aged 18-25 years old—also known as Generation Z—in 22 countries for the “Future of humanity” survey.

    They were asked for their opinions on the current state of human rights in their country and the world, which issues they feel are most important and who they feel is responsible for addressing human rights abuses.

    Respondents were asked to pick up to five issues from a list of 23 major issues facing their country and the world. Among Canadian youth surveyed, 40% said climate change was one of the most important issues facing their country, ahead of lack of housing (31%) and income inequality (30%). In total (41%) of respondents said climate change was one of the most important issues facing the world, making it the most commonly cited globally, followed by 36% who chose pollution and 31% who selected terrorism.

    When asked to choose among 10 specific environmental issues, 44% of Canadian respondents selected global warming as one of the most important environmental issues facing the country, making it the most commonly selected issue, with deforestation placing second (33%) and wildfires placing a close third (32%).

    Global warming was also the most commonly cited as one of the most important environmental issues facing the world (57%) out of 10 environmental issues such as ocean pollution, air pollution and deforestation.

    “As we mark Human Rights Day, we need to recognize that the climate crisis will arguably be the defining issue for this generation of young people. The right to a healthy environment, including a safe climate, is essential for the enjoyment of so many other rights. It is a right that young people today have been forced to take the lead in asserting,” said Kumi Naidoo.

    Generation Z “living inside a failed system”

    However, the survey’s findings extend well beyond the climate crisis, reflecting the everyday struggles and concerns facing Generation Z in their own countries.

    At a national level corruption was most commonly cited as one of the most important issues (36%), followed by economic instability (26%), pollution (26%), income inequality (25%), climate change (22%) and violence against women (21%).

    “This generation lives in a world of widening inequality, economic instability and austerity where vast numbers of people have been left behind,” said Kumi Naidoo.

    “Faced with all this, the message from young people is clear. We are living inside a failed system. The climate crisis, pollution, corruption and lack of decent work opportunities and living standards are all windows on an alarming truth about how the powerful have exploited their power for selfish and often short-term gain.”

    The survey’s findings come at a time of widespread mass protests around the world, from Algeria to Chile, Lebanon, Iraq, Hong Kong and Sudan.  Many of these movements have been largely led by young people and students, who have angrily called out corruption, inequality, and abuse of power and faced violent repression for doing so.

    “Amnesty International believes that young people want to see a system transformation. They want a reckoning with the climate emergency, with abuse of power, and with the system that has foisted these crises upon us. They want to see a completely different future blossoming instead of the wreckage that we are heading towards,” said Kumi Naidoo.

    Call for system change built on human rights

    Alongside climate change, a clear majority of young people value human rights in general and want to see their governments take most responsibility to protect them, according to the findings of the “Future of humanity” survey.

    Across the countries surveyed, the majority of survey respondents agreed that:

    • the protection of human rights is fundamental to the future of the countries tested (73% agree vs 11% disagree);
    • governments should take the wellbeing of their citizens more seriously than economic growth (63% agree vs 13% disagree); and
    • human rights must be protected, even if it has a negative impact on the economy (60% agree vs 15% disagree).

    Coupled with the results that show that most young people believe voting in elections is an effective method for initiating human rights change, over and above going on strike or attending a protest, the results were not all bad news for leaders who are “willing to listen”.   

    “If the leaders of the world are willing to listen carefully, they will notice that Generation Z are not asking for small tweaks. Young people are looking for fundamental changes in the way the world works. If leaders fail to take that seriously, they will face a growing legitimacy crisis,” said Kumi Naidoo.  

    “Above all, they must begin the new decade with a serious commitment and meaningful action to address the climate emergency, reduce inequality and put in place meaningful reforms to end abuses of power. We need systemic human rights-based changes to the economic and political systems that have brought us to the brink.”

    BACKGROUND

    In September 2019 Amnesty commissioned Ipsos MORI to conduct an online poll of young people aged 18-25 in 22 countries about their opinions on human rights and the state of the world. Fieldwork took place 6 September to 2 October 2019.

    The countries covered span all six inhabited continents: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Hungary, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tunisia, UK, Ukraine and USA.

    Interviewing was done online using panels owned by Ipsos MORI and other panel providers.  In most countries, c.500 respondents were interviewed, apart from Tunisia (395).  Quotas were applied on gender and age and where panel size allowed, region to ensure a spread of interviews.  No quotas were imposed in Tunisia.  Data was post weighted by age, gender and region to known offline proportions.  Region was excluded from Nigeria weights.  Online samples in Argentina, Brazil, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, Tunisia, Ukraine are more urban, more educated and/or more affluent than the general population and the results should be viewed as reflecting the views of a more “connected” population.  Percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole percentage.

    The full list of questions asked were:

    Q1. Which, if any, of the following do you see as the most important issues facing your country? Please select up to 5 (from a list of 23)

    Q1. Which, if any, of the following do you see as the most important issues facing the world? Please select up to 5 (from a list of 23)

    Q2. Which, if any, of the following do you see as the most important environmental issues facing your country? Please select up to 3 (from a list of 10)

    Q2. Which, if any, of the following do you see as the most important environmental issues facing the world? Please select up to 3 (from a list of 10)

    Q3. Globally, who do you believe should take the most responsibility for protecting the environment?

    Q3. Globally, who do you believe should take the most responsibility for ensuring human rights are upheld?

    Q4a. From this list of countries, which 5, if any, do you believe are doing best at upholding human rights? If you believe there are fewer than 5 doing well, then you may select fewer countries.  If you believe no countries are doing well, then select “none of these”.

    Q4b. From this list of countries, which 5, if any, do you believe are doing worst at upholding human rights?  If you believe there are fewer than 5 doing badly, then you may select fewer countries.  If you believe no countries are doing badly, then select “none of these”.

    Q6. Globally, which of these industries, if any, do you feel have the worst reputations for violating human rights? Please select up to 3 (from a list of 10)

    Q7. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements:

    • Human rights must be protected, even if it has a negative impact on the economy.
    •  Governments should take the wellbeing of their citizens more seriously than economic growth
    • The government of the countries tested is fully committed to the protection of human rights
    • Protection of human rights is fundamental to the future of the countries tested
    • I want to live in a society that is accepting of people, no matter what their cultural or religious background is
    • The government of the countries tested should welcome more refugees/asylum seekers
    • I support people campaigning for human rights around the world
    • People who spread hatred are a threat to the country’s stability

    Q8. How effective, if at all, do you think each of the following are at initiating change regarding human rights?

    • Posting on social media
    • Writing a letter to a politician
    • Attending a protest
    • Joining a human rights group
    • Donating to a human rights charity
    • Going on strike
    • Signing a petition
    • Participating in non-violent civil disobedience
    • Voting in elections
    rights