Rising Levels of Concern over Climate Change in Europe, including the UK

October 15, 2020
R&WS Research Team
Business | Climate Change | Consumer Behaviour | Economic Policy | Environment | The European Union

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Scientists have reported that last month was the world’s hottest September on record, with surface air temperatures in Europe eclipsing the previous high by 0.2° C. Beyond global warming, the continent’s climate change worries extend to pollution, biodiversity loss, the overconsumption of natural resources, and much more. In this context, Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ recent poll assessed attitudes towards climate change across Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy.

Our poll found that strong majorities throughout Italy (72%), Germany (70%), Great Britain (69%), and France (68%) agree that climate change is a direct threat to their country.

Across the four countries, public concern about climate change has increased in recent months. Compared to late August, British respondents are now six percentage points more likely to agree that climate change is a direct threat to their country, while Italian and French respondents are each four points more likely to agree. Compared to June, Germans are five points more likely to agree.

While all countries share a relatively similar level of agreement that climate change presents a direct threat, differences begin to emerge when respondents are asked whether the threat posed by climate change has been overstated. Italians remain the most concerned, with 74% believing the threat of climate change has not been overstated, while the proportions who do not think climate change has been overstated are substantially lower in Britain (64%), Germany (63%), and France (59%).

A similar pattern could be observed regarding the question of human responsibility for climate change: 81% of Italian respondents believe humans are responsible for climate change, compared to 74% of German, 73% of French, and 69% of British respondents.

While the public across all four countries broadly agrees that humans have a role to play in combating climate change, disagreements arise as to which groups are primarily responsible for decreasing carbon emissions and reducing the impact of climate change. Pluralities in Germany (48%), France (47%), and Italy (42%) believe the responsibility primarily falls on businesses. On the other hand, 25% in Germany and France say the onus is on governments, a view held by 33% of Italian respondents. Meanwhile, between 13-14% in the three continental countries say individuals have the greatest responsibility for reducing carbon emissions. Across Europe, many companies have started to accommodate climate change considerations into their business models, and as many as half of all European businesses now offer rewards to executives for tackling climate change, according to the charity CDP.

In contrast to respondents from continental Europe, a plurality (32%) of British respondents believe it is governments who are most responsible for reducing carbon emissions and the impact of climate change. Only 27% of respondents in Britain consider that businesses are the most responsible for fighting climate change. Interestingly, British respondents are more likely than respondents from the continent to believe that individuals have the greatest role to play in reducing carbon emissions and the impact of climate change, with 23% saying that individuals are the most responsible.

Last week, European Union lawmakers backed a plan to slash greenhouse gases by 60% within the next decade, up from the current target of 40%. Scientists predict that this requirement is the minimum for the EU to achieve its target of becoming climate neutral by 2050. Ultimately, many expect that member states will seek to water down their carbon neutrality target in the upcoming negotiations.

Despite the European Union’s recent plans, majorities across all four countries (68% in Italy, 67% in Germany, 64% in France, 57% in Great Britain) believe Europe is not doing enough to combat climate change. It is worth noting that Britain’s majority was slimmer not because more respondents approved of Europe’s efforts against climate change, but because a greater proportion answered, ‘don’t know’ (29%).

Politicians may consider environmental concerns as secondary to impending economic worries, especially during a financially-straining pandemic. Even so, European respondents would prefer for environment protection to be prioritised, even if doing so was detrimental to the economy. A majority of those polled in Italy (68%), France (62%), Germany (57%) and Great Britain (53%) hold this view.

Although there is general support for the concept of prioritising the environment over the economy, Italy was the only country in which a clear plurality (40%) claimed that they would be willing to buy environmentally friendlier products even if they cost 1.5x or 2x more. A marginal plurality in France (40%) said they would be willing to spend substantially more on environmentally friendlier products, although 37% said they would not be willing to do so. Meanwhile, respondents in Germany were split, with 40% saying yes and 39% saying no­––a difference which falls within the margin of error for our poll in Germany. Somewhat interestingly, a clear plurality (43%) in Great Britain said that they would not be willing to spend more on environmentally friendlier products, while 33% said they would; this disagreement comes despite British respondents placing more of an emphasis on the responsibility of individuals to tackle climate change.

Overall, respondents across Britain, France, Germany, and Italy consider that climate change poses a direct threat to their country. The overwhelming majority believe that climate change is a result of human actions, and that governments should prioritise environmental protection despite potential negative economic consequences. However, opinion remains divided between the countries over which actors are primarily responsible for taking steps to combat climate change, and the public is split on the level of personal financial sacrifice that they would be willing to make in order to help reduce carbon emissions.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Follow us on Twitter

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