The theme for Earth Day in 2022 is ‘Invest in our Planet’, but the latest YouGov Eurotrack data suggests that while there is significant public support across seven European countries for economic action on climate change, this support is limited to policies that would have small personal impacts rather than the substantial policy changes needed to tackle climate change.
As previous YouGov research has shown in the UK, while people are willing to make small changes that would not significantly impact their lifestyle, they are as yet unwilling to make the bigger kind of changes that may be necessary to turn the tide on climate change.
Plants and trees
Many people are open to creating green space in their home, with around seven in ten saying they would either be willing to do this, or already do, in all countries. Britons are particularly green-fingered, with 31% saying they already do this, although it is not clear whether this is motivated by climate change or something else.
There is also substantial support for a more formal programme of planting more trees, ranging from 82% in Sweden to 93% in Spain.
Another area where willingness and policy support do align is single-use plastic. Spaniards are the most willing, with 61% saying they would be willing to never buy products made from single-use plastic, this figure drops to 48% amongst Danes but is still significantly higher than the proportion who would be unwilling to do this.
Although Danes are the least willing to take this action themselves, 69% would support government-led action on this, while 83% of Spaniards would also back this policy.
Around a third of Britons, Danes and Swedes (33-34%) would be willing to limit the amount of meat and dairy products they eat to two or three meals a week, whereas just 10-13% would be willing to cut these products out of their diets completely. Spaniards and Italians are more open to this change, with 44% saying they would be willing to limit their diets in this way, and 17% in both countries saying they would cut these products completely.
The level of support for legislating in this area varies across the 7 European countries polled – 50% of Italians would support a policy limiting the amount of meat and dairy products that can be bought in a week, compared to just 23% of Brits.
Driving and transport
Driving is another significant contributor to carbon emissions, and again, the steps people are willing to take to reduce these emissions directly correlates to the impact it would have on their lives. While at least three in ten Europeans would be willing to switch to an electric car, rising to 51% and 55% respectively in Spain and Italy, far fewer people in Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Spain and Italy would be willing to swap to walking, cycling or using public transport rather than driving.
The picture is slightly different in France and Germany, where more people would be willing to take the more extreme step of substituting driving completely than would be willing to switch to an electric car. The gap is particularly large in France, with 41% saying they would be willing to take the more extreme step, 10 points higher than the number who would be willing to switch to a more environmentally-friendly mode of transport.
It does appear that these two countries have a slightly different culture of walking, cycling or using public transport compared to the other countries polled, as the proportion that say they already do this is much higher than in the other countries – 25% of French adults, and 27% of Germans say they already walk, cycle or use public transport instead of driving, compared to 13-16% elsewhere.
This is one area that governments are looking to legislate in the near future, but it is not popular with the European public. When asked about a policy of banning the production and sale of petrol and diesel cars, only in Spain and Italy does the proportion of supporters outweigh opponents, with 50% of Spaniards, and 46% of Italians, supporting such a policy. The French and Germans are less sure, with just 28% and 27% respectively saying they would support this idea.
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