Most New Zealanders believe the time has passed for arguing about whether people are to blame for climate change - but our enthusiasm for leading the world in the fight against it has waned.

A ShapeNZ survey issued today by the Sustainable Business Council shows the number of New Zealanders who want to outpace the rest of the world has fallen by a third since 2007.

The online survey of 2851 people found 87 per cent thought New Zealand should take steps to manage climate change "very soon" or "in coming years".

Asked how quickly New Zealand should respond compared to other countries, 42 per cent of those surveyed wanted to lead global efforts, down from 63 per cent in June 2007. The number who wanted to move at the same pace as other countries was up from 27 per cent in 2007 to 39 per cent.

Sustainable Business Council chief executive Peter Neilson said a slowing economy tended to make people more selfish, and climate change was an issue for which a solution would mainly benefit people's grandchildren and children.

He said other nations had "lapped" New Zealand when it came to policies, such as the Emissions Trading Scheme, that were being discussed here in 2007. That had made it easier to follow and harder to lead. "There's a lot more competition now."

Mr Neilson said it was remarkable the economic recession had not pushed climate change further down in people's priorities.

The number of people who said climate change was a problem that needed to be dealt with now or urgently was about three quarters - almost the same as in June 2007.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is made up of 2500 scientists and is the world authority on climate change, says temperatures are creeping up because of heat-trapping greenhouse gases released mainly by burning fossil fuels.

But sceptics say the link between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming has not been proven.

In 2007, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told a top-level UN gathering the time had passed for doubting whether climate change was happening as a result of human activities.

Asked if they agreed with this statement, 64 per cent of those in the New Zealand survey said yes, 14 per cent disagreed and the rest were neutral or did not know.

Sixty-five per cent believed the effects of global warming had already begun and 44 per cent believed it would threaten lifestyles within their lifetime.

Climate change was ranked 6th on a list of problems that could affect people and their families.

It was behind fuel prices and the economic recession but ahead of interest rates and government borrowing.

Forty-one per cent of those questioned thought New Zealand was doing too little to manage climate change, 34 per cent thought it was doing enough.

Mr Neilson said the survey confirmed other studies showing about 9 or 10 per cent of the population did not think climate change was happening or thought it was not worth worrying about.