Europeans accept climate change is happening

02/10/18

A great majority of Europeans think that climate change is happening, but do not have strong concern about the issue, according to a new European Social Survey (ESS) report.

The results show that, while most Europeans think the consequences of climate change will be bad, many only feel a moderate responsibility to reduce climate change and think that personal efforts will not be very effective.

However, support for renewable energy sources and energy efficiency regulation are high across Europe, with a majority in all countries who want a large amount electricity to be generated from renewable sources.

The report - European Attitudes towards Cimate Change and Energy - was authored by a team of external academics led by Professor Wouter Poortinga from Cardiff University.

Attitudes to Climate Change

A great majority of respondents in each country think that the world’s climate is changing, that this is at least partly due to human activity, and that the consequences of climate change will be bad.

However, just over a quarter (28%) of respondents across Europe stated that they were very or extremely worried about climate change.

Concern was highest in Portugal (51%) and Spain (48%), and lowest in Russia (14%), Poland (15%) and Estonia (15%).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, people indicated more concern over the affordability of energy, with 40% across Europe claiming to be very or extremely worried.

Concern about the affordability of energy is particularly widespread in Spain (70%) and Portugal (68%), the two countries that also have the highest levels of concern about climate change. Conversely, fewer than 15% of respondents in Sweden, Iceland, Switzerland, and Norway indicated concern over the cost of energy.

Personal responsibility

Looking at personal responsibility to reduce climate change on a scale of 0-10 (where 0 represents no responsibility and 10 means a great deal responsibility), the mean score was only slightly above the scale mid-point of 5.

Feelings of personal responsibility to mitigate climate change were highest in France and Switzerland (with mean scores close to 7 on a 0-10 scale), and lowest in the Czech Republic and Russia (both with a mean score lower than 4).

When asked whether they could reduce their energy use, many respondents did not feel very confident that they could do so, especially those in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Russia.

And it also appears that people do not think that it is highly likely that limiting their energy use would help to reduce climate change

The authors found that people who feel personally responsible to help reduce climate change also feel more confident that they could save energy and think that doing so would be effective in reducing climate change.

Support for renewable energy sources

Respondents were asked how much electricity should be generated from a number of fossil, nuclear and renewable energy sources.

The vast majority of respondents in the European Union and European Free Trade Association area indicated support for renewable energy sources.

Around three-quarters think that a large or very large amount should be generated from wind and solar power.

In contrast, coal and nuclear are highly unpopular sources of electricity generation, with only around 10% of respondents thinking a large or very large amount of electricity should be generated from them.

Support for environmental policies

The European Social Survey also assessed support for different environmental policies to reduce climate change.

The results show that the use of public money to subsidise renewable energy is particularly popular, with 76% of respondents favouring this policy.

More than half of those surveyed are in favour of a ban on sales of the least energy-efficient household appliances, while only one in five are against this policy.

In contrast, only 30% of respondents are in favour of increasing fossil fuel taxes, while 40% are somewhat or strongly against this policy.

The report - European Attitudes towards Cimate Change and Energy - was authored by: Wouter Poortinga (Cardiff University), Stephen Fisher (University of Oxford), Gisela Böhm (University of Bergen), Linda Steg (University of Groningen), Lorraine Whitmarsh (Cardiff University) and Charles Ogunbode (University of Bergen).