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People walk along a street against wind beside a demolition site on a hazy day in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, Feb. 28, 2013. Beijing’s environmental authorities said on Thursday air quality in Beijing and nearby regions hit dangerous levels, Xinhua News Agency reported.

CHINA DAILY/REUTERS

Public concern about environmental issues hit a 20-year low last year, a poll showed, as worries about the aftermath of the global financial crisis overshadowed growing evidence of man-made climate change.

Canada-based research group GlobeScan surveyed 22,812 people from 22 countries, asking them to rate the seriousness of six issues – air pollution, water pollution, species loss, automobile emissions, fresh water shortages and climate change.

On average, 49 per cent of people surveyed said climate change was a "very serious" concern and 50 per cent said the same for biodiversity loss. The highest level of concern was about fresh water shortages, with 58 per cent of people rating this as a "very serious" concern.

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"Scientists report that evidence of environmental damage is stronger than ever but our data shows that economic crisis and a lack of political leadership mean that the public are starting to tune out," said Doug Miller, chairman of GlobeScan.

"Those who care about mobilizing public opinion on the environment need to find new messages in order to reinvigorate a stalled debate."

The survey was conducted in July-September 2012, before hurricane Sandy hit the United States' east coast, which experts said might have raised awareness of extreme weather events.

The poll showed public concern for all issues except climate change was lower last year than in 1992. Many of the sharpest falls in concern occurred over the past two years.

Concern about climate change was actually lower between 1998 and 2003 than last year but no exact reason was given for this.

Falling public concern over environmental issues coincides with the aftermath of the global financial crisis in 2007-8 and a series of disappointing international climate conferences since a United Nations' summit in 2009 in Copenhagen failed to clinch a strong deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Countries are still working on getting a deal signed by 2015 which would legally bind all nations to cut emissions from 2020.

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Last year saw evidence mount of man-made climate change and the effects of global warming. Summer sea ice in the Arctic declined to a record low level while carbon dioxide emissions rose to record highs.

In January, a report by the World Economic Forum estimated that curbing climate change would cost the world an extra $700-billion a year.

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