A global survey has found that the world’s wealthiest people understand climate change, but only half see it as a threat.

An analysis of perceptions in 119 countries found living standards and relative wealth are actually “poor predictors” of whether or not populations consider climate change to be a real risk.

The study collated the results of Gallup polls taken around the world, where respondents were asked how much they knew about climate change and if they considered it a threat to them.

Over 75 per cent of people in Australia, the US, UK and most of Europe are aware of climate change, but less than half in some countries consider it to be detrimental to themselves or their families.

Just over 50 per cent of people polled in the US, Germany and the Scandinavian countries, perceived climate change to be a threat.

In Russia, understanding of climate change was widespread, but still less than 50 per cent thought it was a risk to them.

The risks that come with increased climate variability are more widely believed in France and Spain, but these are still not areas where it is of greatest concern.

Across South American, concern over climate change is above 90 per cent, a level of worry shared by Mexico, India, Tanzania and Morocco.

Japan is among the only highly-advanced economies to also be highly concerned about the risks of climate change.

The researchers found different factors drive awareness and risk perceptions of climate change, including education levels and understanding the human influence on the climate. This was the greatest factor in Europe, while perception of changing temperatures is the major driver in many African and Asian countries.

The results show “the need to develop tailored climate communication strategies for individual nations,” according to authors of the paper, who come from a selection of US universities.

“The results suggest that improving basic education, climate literacy, and public understanding of the local dimensions of climate change are vital to public engagement and support for climate action.”

“People can be aware of it but they see it as a distant risk and don’t engage with it much,” says Dr Debbie Hopkins, an expert at the social understandings of climate change at the University of Otago.

“This disjunction can negate the feeling that we need to act on climate change.

“In many developed countries we have confidence in our adaptive capacity. We think we can adapt and cope, and in many ways we can do so more than developing economies.

“We also talk about global averages and that’s a difficult term for many people because two degrees doesn’t seem like a lot. That risk seems diminished whereas if you’re living somewhere with extreme variability and extreme weather events, two degrees can seem like a lot.”

Hopkins said the best ways to get more people to understand the very real threats of climate change were through accurate media reporting and more engaged conversations with people on the issue at a local and personal level.

Authorities say the world cannot afford to wait.

The survey report is published here