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Research shows public not concerned over climate crisis

EU Reporter Correspondent

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New research in Europe and the United States shows that large portions of the public still do not accept the urgency of the climate crisis, and only a minority believe it will impact them and their families severely over the next fifteen years.
The survey, which was commissioned by d|part and the Open Society European Policy Institute, forms part of a major new study of climate awareness. It charts attitudes on the existence, causes, and impacts of climate change in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Poland, Czech Republic, the UK and the US. It also examines public attitudes to a series of policies that the EU and national governments could harness to reduce the damage inflicted by human-made emissions.
The report finds that, though a clear majority of European and American respondents are aware that the climate is warming, and that it is likely to have negative impacts for humankind, there is a distorted public understanding of the scientific consensus in both Europe and America. This, the report argues, has created a gap between public awareness and climate science, leaving the public underestimating the urgency of the crisis, and failing to appreciate the scale of the action required. 
All but a small minority accept that human activities have a role in climate change – with no more than 10% refusing to believe this in any country surveyed.  
However, while outright denial is rare, there is widespread confusion about the extent of human responsibility.   Large minorities – ranging from 17% to 44% across the surveyed countries – still believe that climate change is caused equally by humans and natural processes. This matters because those who do accept that climate change is the result of human action are twice as likely to believe it will cause negative consequences in their own lives.
 
Significant minorities believe scientists are equally divided on the causes of global warming – including two thirds of voters in Czech Republic (67%) and nearly half in UK (46%).  In reality, 97 per cent of climate scientists agree that humans have caused recent global warming.
 
A large majority of Europeans and US citizens in all nine countries polled agree that climate change requires a collective response, whether to mitigate climate change or adapt to its challenges.  Majorities in Spain (80%) Italy (73%), Poland (64%), France (60%), the UK (58%) and the US (57%) agree with the statement that “we should do everything we can to stop climate change.”
The report also finds that there is polarisation along party political lines on climate change – in Europe as well as the US.  Those on the left tend to be more aware of the existence, causes and impact of climate change, and more in favour of action, than people on the right. These differences are more important than demographic variation in most countries. For example, in the US, those who identify as left in their political orientation are nearly three times as likely to expect a negative impact on their own lives (49%) compared to those who identify as more on the right (17%). Polarisation is also marked in Sweden, France, Italy and the UK. The only country where there is balance across the spectrum is the Czech Republic.
 
Majorities are willing to act on climate change, but the actions they favour tend to be consumer-focused rather than efforts to create collective social change.  A majority of respondents in every country say they have already cut their plastic consumption (62%), their air travel (61%) or their car travel (55%).  A majority also says they either already have or are planning to reduce their meat consumption, switch to a green energy supplier, vote for party because of their climate change programme, or buy more organic and locally produced food.
 
However, people are much less likely to support civil society engagement directly, with only small minorities having donated to an environmental organization (15% across the survey), joined an environmental organization, (8% across the survey), or joined an environmental protest (9% across the survey). Only a quarter (25%) of respondents across the survey say they have voted for a political party because of their climate change policies.
Just 47 per cent of those surveyed believe they, as individuals, have very high responsibility for tackling climate change. Only in the UK (66%), Germany (55%), the US (53%), Sweden, (52%), and Spain (50%) is there a majority who feel a high sense of responsibility themselves.   In every country surveyed people are more likely to think that their national Government has a high responsibility for tackling climate change.   This ranges from 77% of those surveyed in Germany and the UK to 69% in the US, 69% in Sweden and 73% in Spain.  In every EU country, respondents were slightly more likely to see the EU as having a high responsibility for reducing climate change than national Governments. 
 
The polling also finds that people prefer to be offered incentives to act on climate change rather than face bans or carbon taxes.  A small majority are willing to pay some more tax for greater action on climate change - apart from in France, Italy and the Czech Republic – but the percentage willing to pay more than a small amount (one hour’s wage per month) is limited to at most a quarter – in Spain and the US.  Increasing taxes on all flights, or introducing a levy for frequent flyers, garnered some support across the polled countries (between 18 per cent and 36 per cent, collectively). Although the preferred policy for tackling air travel emissions, by a clear margin, was improving ground infrastructure for buses and trains.
Heather Grabbe, director of Open Society European Policy Institute, said “Many citizens across Europe and US still don’t realize that scientific consensus on human responsibility for climate change is overwhelming. Though outright denialism is rare, there is a widespread false belief, promoted by vested interests opposed to emissions reductions, that scientists are split on whether humans are causing climate change – when in fact 97% of scientists know that.
 
"This soft denialism matters because it lulls the public into thinking that climate change won’t affect their lives much over the next decades, and they don’t realise how radically we need to change our economic system and habits to prevent ecological collapse. Our polling shows that the more convinced people are that climate change is the result of human activity, the more accurately they estimate its impact and the more they want action.”
Jan Eichhorn, research director of d|part and lead author of the study, said: "The public in Europe and the US want to see action in response to climate change across all demographics. Politicians need to show leadership in responding to this desire in an ambitious way that enhances people's understanding of the severity of the crisis and the impact humans have - as this understanding is not developed enough so far. Relying on individual action is not enough. People see the state and international organizations at the EU in charge. People are principally open to being convinced to support more extensive action, but to achieve this urgently requires further work from political and civil society actors."
 
FINDINGS:
  • A sizeable majority of Europeans and Americans believe that climate change is happening. In all nine countries surveyed, an overwhelming majority of respondents say that the climate is probably or definitely changing – ranging from 83 per cent in the US to 95 per cent in Germany.
  • Outright climate change denial is scarce in all of the countries surveyed. The USA and Sweden have the largest group of people who either doubt climate change or are convinced it is not happening, and, even here, it only comprises just over 10 per cent of those surveyed.
  • Howeverover a third (35%) of those surveyed in the nine countries attribute climate change to a balance of natural and human processes – with this feeling most pronounced in France (44%), the Czech Republic (39%) and the US (38%). The plurality view among respondents is that it is caused “mainly by human activity”.
  • A significant group of ‘soft’ attribution sceptics believe that, contrary to the scientific consensus, climate change is caused equally by human activities and natural processes: these constituencies range from 17 per cent in Spain to 44 per cent in France.  When added to the “hard” attribution sceptics, who don’t believe human activity is a contributing factor to climate change, these sceptics together make up the majority in France, Poland, the Czech Republic and the USA.
  • Majorities believe that climate change will have very negative consequences for life on earth in Spain (65%), Germany (64%), the UK (60%), Sweden (57%), the Czech Republic (56%) and Italy (51%).  However, there is a significant minority of “impact sceptics” who believe the negative consequences will be outweighed by the positive - ranging from 17 per cent in the Czech Republic to 34 per cent in France.  There is also a group in the middle who don’t see global warming as harmless, but think that negative consequences will also be balanced by positive ones.  This “middle group” ranges from 12 per cent in Spain to 43 per cent in France. 
  • Most people don’t think their own lives will be strongly affected by climate change in the next fifteen years. Only in Italy, Germany and France do more than a quarter of people think their lives will be strongly disrupted by climate change by 2035 if no additional action is taken.  While the prevailing view is that there will be some change to their lives, a considerable minority believe their lives won’t change at all as a result of unchecked climate change – with the largest group in the Czech Republic (26%) followed by Sweden (19%), the USA and Poland (18%), Germany (16%) and the UK (15%).
  • Age makes a difference to views on climate change, but only in certain countries. Overall, younger people tend to be more likely to expect negative impacts of climate change on their lives by 2035 if nothing is done to address the issues. This trend is   particularly strong in Germany; where negative impacts are expected by 36 per cent of 18-34 year olds (compared to 30% of 55- 74 year olds), Italy; (46% of 18-34 year olds compared to 33% of 55-74-year olds), Spain; (43% of 18-34 year olds compared to 32% of 55-74 year olds) and the UK; (36% of 18-34 year olds compared to 22% of 55-74 year olds).
  • Imposing higher taxes on flights is only seen as the best option to reduce emissions from flights by a minority - ranging from 18 per cent in Spain to 30 per cent in the US and 36 per cent per cent in the UK.   An outright ban on internal flights within countries is even less popular, enjoying most support in France (14%) and Germany (14%).  The most popular policy for reducing emissions from plane travel is improving the train and bus networks, which is chosen as the best policy by a majority of respondents in Spain, Italy and Poland.
  • Majorities in most countries are willing to persuade their friends and family to behave in a more climate-friendly way – with only 11 per cent in Italy and 18 per cent in Spain not willing to do this.  However, nearly 40 per cent of people in the Czech Republic, France, the US and the UK would not contemplate this idea at all.
  • There is widespread support for switching to a green energy firm to provide household energy. However, France and the US have large minorities (42% and 39% respectively) who would not consider a switch to green energy.  This compares to just 14 per cent in Italy and 20 per cent in Spain who would not consider a change to green energy.
  • Majorities in Europe are willing to reduce their meat consumption, but figures vary widely.  Only a quarter of people in Italy and Germany are not willing to reduce their meat consumption, compared to 58 per cent of people in the Czech Republic, 50 per cent people in the US, and around 40 per cent in the Spain, the UK, Sweden and Poland.

Climate change

Big business seeks unified, market-based approaches ahead of climate summit

Reuters

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Corporate executives and investors say they want world leaders at next week’s climate summit to embrace a unified and market-based approach to slashing their carbon emissions, write Ross Kerber and Simon Jessop.

The request reflects the business world’s growing acceptance that the world needs to sharply reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, as well as its fear that doing so too quickly could lead governments to set heavy-handed or fragmented rules that choke international trade and hurt profits.

The United States is hoping to reclaim its leadership in combating climate change when it hosts the 22-23 April Leaders Summit on Climate.

Key to that effort will be pledging to cut US emissions by at least half by 2030, as well as securing agreements from allies to do the same.

“Climate change is a global problem, and what companies are looking to avoid is a fragmented approach where the US, China and the EU each does its own thing, and you wind up with a myriad of different methodologies,” said Tim Adams, chief executive of the Institute of International Finance, a Washington-based trade association.

He said he hopes U.S. President Joe Biden and the 40 other world leaders invited to the virtual summit will move toward adopting common, private-sector solutions to reaching their climate goals, such as setting up new carbon markets, or funding technologies like carbon-capture systems.

Private investors have increasingly been supportive of ambitious climate action, pouring record amounts of cash into funds that pick investments using environmental and social criteria.

That in turn has helped shift the rhetoric of industries that once minimized the risks of climate change.

The American Petroleum Institute, which represents oil companies, for example, said last month it supported steps to reduce emissions such as putting a price on carbon and accelerating the development of carbon capture and other technologies.

API Senior Vice President Frank Macchiarola said that in developing a new U.S. carbon cutting target, the United States should balance environmental goals with maintaining U.S. competitiveness.

“Over the long-term, the world is going to demand more energy, not less, and any target should reflect that reality and account for the significant technological advancements that will be required to accelerate the pace of emissions reductions,” Macchiarola said.

Labor groups like the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of U.S. labor unions, meanwhile, back steps to protect U.S. jobs like taxing goods made in countries that have less onerous emissions regulations.

AFL-CIO spokesman Tim Schlittner said the group hopes the summit will produce “a clear signal that carbon border adjustments are on the table to protect energy-intensive sectors”.

Industry wish lists

Automakers, whose vehicles make up a big chunk of global emissions, are under pressure to phase out petroleum-fueled internal combustion engines. Industry leaders General Motors Co and Volkswagen have already declared ambitious plans to move toward selling only electric vehicles.

But to ease the transition to electric vehicles, US and European automakers say they want subsidies to expand charging infrastructure and encourage sales.

The National Mining Association, the US industry trade group for miners, said it supports carbon capture technology to reduce the industry’s climate footprint. It also wants leaders to understand that lithium, copper and other metals are needed to manufacture electric vehicles.

“We hope that the summit brings new attention to the mineral supply chains that underpin the deployment of advanced energy technologies, such as electric vehicles,” said Ashley Burke, the NMA’s spokeswoman.

The agriculture industry, meanwhile, is looking for market-based programs to help it cut its emissions, which stack up to around 25% of the global total.

Industry giants such as Bayer AG and Cargill Inc have launched programs encouraging farming techniques that keep carbon in the soil.

Biden’s Department of Agriculture is looking to expand such programs, and has suggested creating a “carbon bank” that could pay farmers for carbon capture on their farms.

For their part, money managers and banks want policymakers to help standardize accounting rules for how companies report environmental and other sustainability-related risks, something that could help them avoid laggards on climate change.

“Our industry has an important role to play in supporting companies’ transition to a more sustainable future, but to do so it is vital we have clear and consistent data on the climate-related risks faced by companies,” said Chris Cummings, CEO of the Investment Association in London.

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Climate change

Kerry calls for close EU US co-operation to set ambitious climate goals in Glasgow

Catherine Feore

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President Biden’s Climate Envoy John Kerry arrived in Brussels for the second stop on his visit to Europe, after London. Executive Vice President Timmermans said that he was convinced that the United States and Europe working together: “We can move mountains.”

Kerry said that he was delighted to be meeting the European Commission’s College of Commissioners, reassuring that the US and President Biden were fully committed to address the issue with what he described as “an all of government effort”. 

Kerry said that the science is screaming at us and growing every year. While describing the situation as a crisis, he also said that it presented the greatest opportunity that we've had since perhaps the Industrial Revolution, to build back better and to renew ourselves and our economies. 

“We have no better partners than our friends here in Europe and the EU,” said Kerry. “It is important for us to align ourselves now, because no one country can resolve this crisis alone. It will take every country and it will be more than governments. It will take civic society of our states, our nations and it will take the private sector. Every single economic analysis makes it clear.

“It is more expensive for our citizens not to respond and do what we need to do than it is to do it. Glasgow is the last best opportunity that we have, that best hope that the world will come together and build on Paris. 

“Paris does not alone get the job done. If all of us did what's in Paris, we still see a warming 3.7 degrees or more. And we're not doing all that we set out to do in Paris. So this is the moment for countries, common sense governments people to come together and get the job done. We can do it.”

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Climate change

Building a Climate-Resilient Future - A new EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The European Commission has adopted a new EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change, setting out the pathway to prepare for the unavoidable impacts of climate change. While the EU does everything within its power to mitigate climate change, domestically and internationally, we must also get ready to face its unavoidable consequences. From deadly heatwaves and devastating droughts, to decimated forests and coastlines eroded by rising sea levels, climate change is already taking its toll in Europe and worldwide. Building on the 2013 Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, the aim of today's proposals is to shift the focus from understanding the problem to developing solutions, and to move from planning to implementation.

European Green Deal Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has been a stark reminder that insufficient preparation can have dire consequences. There is no vaccine against the climate crisis, but we can still fight it and prepare for its unavoidable effects. The impacts of climate change are already felt both inside and outside the European Union. The new climate adaptation strategy equips us to speed up and deepen preparations. If we get ready today, we can still build a climate-resilient tomorrow.”

Economic losses from more frequent climate-related extreme weather are increasing. In the EU, these losses alone already average over €12 billion per year. Conservative estimates show that exposing today's EU economy to global warming of 3°C above pre-industrial levels would result in an annual loss of at least €170 billion. Climate change affects not only the economy, but also the health and well-being of Europeans, who increasingly suffer from heat waves; the deadliest natural disaster of 2019 worldwide was the European heatwave, with 2500 deaths.

Our action on climate change adaptation must involve all parts of society and all levels of governance, inside and outside the EU. We will work to build a climate resilient society by improving knowledge of climate impacts and adaptation solutions; by stepping up adaptation planning and climate risk assessments; by accelerating adaptation action; and by helping to strengthen climate resilience globally.

Smarter, swifter, and more systemic adaptation

Adaptation actions must be informed by robust data and risk assessment tools that are available to all - from families buying, building and renovating homes to businesses in coastal regions or farmers planning their crops. To achieve this, the strategy proposes actions that push the frontiers of knowledge on adaptation so that we can gather more and better data on climate-related risks and losses, making them available to all. Climate-ADAPT, the European platform for adaptation knowledge, will be enhanced and expanded, and a dedicated health observatory will be added to better track, analyse and prevent health impacts of climate change.

Climate change has impacts at all levels of society and across all sectors of the economy, so adaptation actions must be systemic. The Commission will continue to incorporate climate resilience considerations in all relevant policy fields. It will support the further development and implementation of adaptation strategies and plans with three cross cutting priorities: integrating adaptation into macro-fiscal policy, nature-based solutions for adaptation, and local adaptation action.

Stepping up international action

Our climate change adaptation policies must match our global leadership in climate change mitigation. The Paris Agreement established a global goal on adaptation and highlighted adaptation as a key contributor to sustainable development. The EU will promote sub-national, national and regional approaches to adaptation, with a specific focus on adaptation in Africa and Small Island Developing States. We will increase support for international climate resilience and preparedness through the provision of resources, by prioritizing action and increasing effectiveness, through the scaling up of international finance and through stronger global engagement and exchanges on adaptation. We will also work with international partners to close the gap in international climate finance.

Background

Climate change is happening today, so we have to build a more resilient tomorrow. The world has just concluded the hottest decade on record during which the title for the hottest year was beaten eight times. The frequency and severity of climate and weather extremes is increasing. These extremes range from unprecedented forest fires and heatwaves right above the Arctic Circle to devastating droughts in the Mediterranean region, and from hurricanes ravaging EU outermost regions to forests decimated by unprecedented bark beetle outbreaks in Central and Eastern Europe. Slow onset events, such as desertification, loss of biodiversity, land and ecosystem degradation, ocean acidification or sea level rise are equally destructive over the long term.

The European Commission announced this new, more ambitious EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change in the Communication on the European Green Deal, following a 2018 evaluation of the 2013 Strategy and an open public consultation between May and August 2020. The European Climate Law proposal provides the foundation for increased ambition and policy coherence on adaptation. It integrates the global goal on adaptation in Article 7 of the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goal 13 action into EU law. The proposal commits the EU and Member States to make continuous progress to boost adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change. The new adaptation strategy will help make this progress a reality.

More information

2021 EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change

Questions and Answers

Adaptation to climate change website

European Green Deal

Video stockshots on adaptation to climate change

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