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How do Europeans perceive and engage with climate change? New insight for France, Germany, Norway and the UK

By Adam Corner on June 29, 2016

Black Rock Solar and The Children's Cabinet conducted a joint field trip for students from Zephyr Cove Elementary. The Children's Cabinet - a nonprofit providing services to young people in the Reno area - is partially powered by a Black Rock Solar array.

The political uncertainty created by Brexit should not become a reason to halt pan-European work on pressing issues like climate change. By understanding how different European countries perceive climate change, progress can be made towards addressing this issue.

How does the culture and politics of a country shape its citizens’ perceptions of climate change? Do different European nations vary in their support for different energy technologies? And how have extreme weather events influenced national views about climate change, as climate impacts start to bite?

The European Perceptions of Climate Change (EPCC) project has been designed to answer precisely these kinds of questions. The centrepiece of the two year project, led by Cardiff University and funded by the Joint Programming Initiative (JPI), is a survey of more than 4000 people, split across four European nations: France, Germany, Norway and the UK. The survey is the first of its kind, designed by a project team made up of academics from each of these four countries, plus Climate Outreach.

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European perceptions of climate change: recommendations for public engagement

In order to design the most informative, relevant survey possible, we started by doing some homework. Quite a lot of homework in fact…and the result is a new report, published today. The report takes each of the four countries involved in the survey and assesses them according to a set of criteria that we expected to have a major influence on public opinion:

  • Cultural, historical & policy context
  • Key people and organisations shaping public perceptions of energy and climate change
  • Key climate and energy-related events that have taken place
  • Anticipated consequences of climate change
  • Media reporting on energy and climate change

The report was based on the project team’s own research, plus the expertise of an international stakeholder panel. The extensive background research allowed us to generate some predictions about where differences in national public opinion might be found, and perhaps more importantly, why.

For example, each nation has a different energy mix. Nuclear power has historically been a (relatively) uncontroversial, and significant, part of the French energy sector. In Germany, accelerated by the Fukushima disaster in 2011, nuclear power has been phased out entirely. Norway’s considerable national wealth has been accumulated through vast exports of oil – but domestically the nation runs on low-carbon hydroelectricity. The UK has the world’s most ambitious decarbonisation targets but may be poised to embark on a nationwide process of ‘fracking’ for natural gas.

If the survey shows peaks and troughs in national perceptions of different energy technologies, our detailed analysis of the policy context in each country should help explain what these differences mean.

In terms of climate impacts, flooding is the dominant risk for the UK as the climate changes. Areas of neighbouring France have been historically susceptible to serious, deadly heatwaves, which look set to worsen. And Norway’s treasured ski-slopes are projected to shrink in size. Have these differing climate projections entered the psyche of citizens in each of these nations – and are people differentially susceptible to the accompanying risks?

Download the report to find out more, and learn about the socio-political context influencing public perceptions of climate change in these four nations. The survey itself will be carried out over the summer, with the results available by the end of the year.

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By Dr Adam Corner

Adam led Climate Outreach’s research work for almost 10 years, growing the Research team and building long standing relationships with academic partners, including the CAST Centre (Climate Change & Social Transformations). He stepped down in early 2021 to start a new adventure in freelance work, which includes a role as a Climate Outreach Associate.  

Before Climate Outreach, Adam worked in the Understanding Risk research group at Cardiff University, researching public attitudes towards climate change. An accomplished and widely-published author, Adam wrote Talking Climate: From Research to Practice in Public Engagement, with Jamie Clarke, and his research and writing has appeared in academic journals, reports and briefings, and international media commentary.

Adam also writes about music – including the increasing connections between music and climate change – for UK media, and can occasionally be found lurking behind the decks at pubs and parties in Bristol.

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