Your browser is no longer supported. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience.

Guest blog: France Talks Climate – where are French people on climate action?

By Lucas Francou Damesin on February 9, 2023

An overwhelming majority of French people consider climate change important, but hold some attitudes which could weaken their will to address the issue. In this guest blog, Lucas Francou Damesin, co-founder of Parlons Climat and Marion Cosperec from Destin Commun (More in Common France) share key findings from their Parlons Climat (France Talks Climate) project, which aims to effectively engage French people with climate change.

Throughout the project, Climate Outreach shared our experience working on Britain Talks Climate and Germany Talks Climate, also based on values-based segmentation.

In many countries, there is a big gap between climate concern and climate action. We all need to make radical changes to our societies, infrastructure and lifestyles to reduce carbon emissions. Concern is consistently high, but whether and how that translates into climate action across society is a question on all of our minds. France is no different. The French are interested in climate change conversations, and show a keen interest in policy and lifestyle changes necessary for a low carbon transition. So what can organisations do to support them to take action?

Destin Commun (More in Common France) is an organisation focussed on ‘understanding the forces driving us apart, finding common ground and bringing people together to tackle shared challenges’. Destin Commun’s research has identified ‘six segments’ within French society (See Finding France, page 7), grouped together by their core belief systems – underpinned by their values and identity. These belief systems inform the way individuals interpret the world around them. Much like Climate Outreach’s work on Britain Talks Climate and Germany Talks Climate – in partnership with More in Common – these segments provide an important lens through which to research, understand and engage people on climate change. 

Over 2021 and 2022, Destin Commun, in partnership with the French team of the European Climate Foundation, engaged the French public and a range of French organisations through a project called Parlons Climat (France Talk Climate), led by Lucas Francou Damesin. The aim of this project was to broaden the base of support for climate action and to prevent the risks of polarisation on this subject within French society. The research engaged 4,000 people in France on climate change, climate policies and actions in March 2022. The researchers crafted, segmented and tested narratives and messages to engage the segments effectively on climate change and a just low carbon transition. They worked with a range of climate organisations to share the research, develop communication guidelines and deliver a half-day training to support them in engaging French people with climate change in the future. During the first months of the project, almost 200 employees and activists from climate and social justice organisations participated in this training. Climate Outreach shared their experience in the UK with the project team throughout the process.

Factors explaining the prioritisation of environmental and climate issues

  • The climate crisis trails fourth on the most pressing issues for French people, after the cost of living, international security and health. Its position as a priority has tended to stagnate or even decrease in recent years. Nevertheless, an overwhelming majority of society – 87% – considers it important; and 85% are concerned about it. 72% think climate change and environmental degradation will be harmful to them, and 88% to future generations.
  • Contrary to popular belief, climate change is a cross-generational concern, and not just the preserve of younger generations. Young people’s support for climate action is often more visible, as they take public actions, such as protesting and sharing content on social media. But, according to this research, older generations are the ones who are more open to making lifestyle changes and have already started. For instance, they expressed more willingness to consume less meat and more support of the idea that current economic models are incompatible with the fight against climate change. French people of all ages agree that current economic models are incompatible with the fight against climate change, and say they are willing to make the necessary radical lifestyle changes. 
  • Education and employment may play a role in attitudes towards climate change in France. The study found that 32% of managers and professionals placed the environment and climate in their top 3 priorities, compared to 25% of workers and employees. 38% of people with higher degrees placed these issues in their top 3 priorities, compared to 22% respondents with less than a bachelor’s degree.
  • Only 24% of people who declare having difficulty paying their bills at the end of the month place the environment and climate in their top 3 priorities, compared to 36% of respondents without financial difficulties. 
  • Political positioning is the most important socio-demographic criterion to explain the prioritisation of climate change. 46% of those who identify as left-leaning place it in their top 3 priorities, compared to only 21% respondents who identify as right-leaning This gap – which has grown since 2019 – could contribute to a society polarised around environmental issues.

This values-based analysis shows the most important difference in the prioritisation of climate change and the environment: 53% of the Disillusioned Activists place it in their top 3 priorities (it’s the number 1 priority for this segment), and this figure is 36% for the Stabilizers. In contrast, only 23% of Identitarians prioritise environmental and climate issues – it’s their 7th priority.

Factors that could help engage French people with taking climate action

  • 58% of French people think that a radical transformation of their lifestyle will be necessary to protect the environment and address climate change. 68% of respondents say that the current economic system is not compatible with the fight against climate change.
  • 73% of respondents think that sobriety – defined as a reduction of their consumption – is a good solution to fight climate change and protect the environment. In contrast, only 41% are open to the idea of de-growth and the same number felt it was not a desirable solution.
  • For the most part, French people are willing to make these changes in a bid to secure their children’s futures (53%), and preserve the beauty of French landscapes and national sites (46%).

Attitudes that could weaken French people’s will to tackle climate change if not addressed

  • First, the French do not feel financially or materially empowered enough to address climate change. They also feel they lack the right information to trust when it comes to this topic. 
  • Second, 20% of French people feel they are already doing enough to combat climate change, and there’s nothing more they can contribute. Additionally, a significant proportion of French people (25%) think that individual choices should be preserved first and foremost, even at the expense of collective issues related to the environment.
  • Third – around one fifth of the French are relying on technology to deal with the climate challenge, and most of the public think their lifestyle is less carbon intensive (40%) or at the same level as the average French person (47%). 
  • Finally, 30% of French people feel that they do not have a place in the climate and environment movement. The insights from Parlons Climat can help to build engagement and a feeling of inclusion for this third of society, through crafting better messaging that appeals to their values.

The findings from Parlons Climat provide climate communicators with a deep range of insights into how to engage French people more effectively. The results suggest there is great potential for deeper engagement across the segments, and across wider society. To this end, following this work, the Parlons Climat team has developed a series of communication recommendations segment by segment, in order to help organisations adapt their messages, their communication channels and their actions to increase their impact and reach new audiences. They’ve delivered many presentations and training sessions with climate communicators and campaigners to share these insights and recommendations. 

Next steps

Parlons Climat is not a one-off project. After its launch, a new organisation – also called Parlons Climat and co-founded by Lucas Francou Damesin – has now been created to continue this work: analysing French opinion on climate change and working with partners to adapt their communication and campaign strategies in order to engage wider audiences.  A number of projects are already underway… watch this space!

Sign up to our newsletter

Sign up to our newsletter