Many Europeans want climate action – but less so if it changes their lifestyle, shows poll

Many Europeans are alarmed by the climate crisis and would willingly take personal steps and back government policies to help combat it, a survey suggests – but the more a measure would change their lifestyle, the less they support it.

The seven-country YouGov survey tested backing for state-level climate action, such as banning single-use plastics and scrapping fossil-fuel cars, and individual initiatives including buying only secondhand clothes and giving up meat and dairy products.

The responses, from the UK, France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Spain and Italy, suggested many people were happy with measures that would not greatly affect the way they lead their lives, but bigger steps that may be necessary were unpopular.

Large majorities in all the countries surveyed – ranging from 60% in Sweden, 63% in Germany and 65% in the UK to 77% in Spain, 79% in France and 81% in Italy – said they were very or fairly worried about climate change and its effects.

Broadly similar percentages said the climate was changing because of human activity, with fewer than 20% of respondents in most countries saying climate change was not due to human activity and a maximum of 5% denying it was even happening.

There was also strong support of between 76% and 85% for the view that all countries would be more effective at tackling climate change if they worked together with others – but less agreement about what exactly individuals were willing to do about it.

Measures entailing no great lifestyle sacrifice were popular, with between 45% (Germany) and 72% (Spain) backing government tree-planting programmes and 60% (Spain) and 77% (UK) saying they would grow more plants themselves or were doing so already.

Between 40% (Denmark) and 56% (UK, Spain and Italy) of respondents would happily never buy products made of single-use plastic again, while between 63% (Sweden) and 75% (Spain) would support a government ban on them.

Similarly, there was fairly solid support – from 28% in Germany to 43% in Italy – for the idea of limiting meat and dairy intake to two or three meals a week; between 24% (in the UK) and 48% (in Italy) would back government legislation to that effect.

Unsurprisingly, government subsidies to make homes more energy efficient were wildly popular, with support ranging from 86% in Spain to 67% in Germany, while covering the costs personally was rather less so (19% in Germany to 40% in Spain).

There was broad support, too, for frequent flyer levies (from 39% in Italy to 59% in Germany, with a majority in five out of the seven countries in favour), but much less for buying only secondhand clothes (from 17% in Germany to 27% in the UK).

Even more radical proposals, such as voluntarily eating no more meat and dairy and having fewer children than you would like, were supported by between barely 10% (Germany) and 19% (Italy), and 9% (Germany) and 17% (Italy) respectively.

Changes in car use, a major contributor to carbon emissions and an area in which many European governments are already legislating, also drew responses that showed a close correlation to the impact they might have on people’s lives.Asked whether they would be willing to switch to an electric car, an average of just under a third of respondents across the seven countries surveyed – ranging from 19% in Germany through 32% in Denmark to 40% in Italy – answered positively.




cover photo:Commuters ride their bikes near Saint-Lazare train station in Paris, France, during a rail strike. Those surveyed were asked if would give up driving altogether in favour of public transport, walking or cycling. Photograph: Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images