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Young Europeans say we need system change to tackle climate change – but most don’t know what ‘climate justice’ means

By Jenny Gellatly on August 12, 2021

This blog was written by Robin Webster and Jenny Gellatly, both part of Climate Outreach’s Advocacy Communications team.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) described its report released on Monday as a ‘code red’ on tackling climate change, adding that the ‘alarm bells are deafening’. A cross-European survey commissioned by Climate Outreach suggests that young people agree – even if they don’t always understand the specific terminology that climate campaigners use.

A large majority (81%) of Europeans aged 35 or under think that we need a social transformation – changing our economy, how we travel, live, produce and consume – in order to tackle climate change, according to the survey. Meanwhile, only one in five think their country is already doing its fair share towards cutting global emissions, and 90% believe that climate change will negatively affect young people’s lives.

 The results come from a poll of 6,000 people aged 35 and under in six European countries – the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Romania, Spain, and the UK – in April 2021. Participants were balanced across age, gender, and where in their country they live. The survey builds on UK-based Framing Climate Justice research carried out by PIRC, & NEON. The fully analysed survey results and recommendations will be made available within our Youth Climate Narratives Guide, to be released in 2022.

The concept of ‘climate justice’ argues that rather than being primarily an environmental issue, climate change is an economic, social, and political one – and sees climate change through the lens of struggles for justice and systemic change. It recognises that the impacts of climate change fall hardest on those who are least responsible for causing it and that climate change multiplies existing social injustices. 

Many young people across Europe appear to support the principles of climate justice, according to the results of this poll. 90% of participants said that the climate crisis will affect people living in poverty negatively, 55% agree that those who are least responsible for causing climate change are worst affected, while only 15% disagree, and seven in ten (71%) recognised that climate change will increase existing inequalities.

Solutions often seen as more radical also attracted support. 4 in 10 said that climate change can only be solved if resources are redistributed from the wealthy to those who have less, while only 23% disagreed. 72% of respondents agreed that people and communities most affected by climate change should have more of a say in decisions about climate solutions. 

The ways in which richer nations are mandated to provide compensation to poorer countries for damages caused by the climate crisis (under the Paris agreement) is already a divisive and controversial topic foreshadowing the UN climate negotiations in Glasgow. In this survey, 58% of respondents agreed that they should, with only 13% in disagreement – a result that may be important for European governments afraid of negative public reactions. 

There were some variations across the countries surveyed: in the UK for example, less than 60% agreed that climate change will increase existing inequalities – the lowest of the six countries surveyed. This compares to 76% in Spain.

Confusing terminology? 

Despite supporting many of the arguments made by campaigners, the people surveyed hadn’t necessarily encountered the term ‘climate justice’ before. Across the six countries, less than 30% thought they could explain the meaning of the term to someone else.

Many were also not aware or did not agree, that climate change affects women around the world more than men. The evidence shows that women and girls are hit hardest because social, political and cultural systems exclude their voices, and limit their access to the resources and opportunities needed to withstand and adapt to climate change.  In this survey, only 20% of respondents understood this. 

The results of the survey indicate that many European young people, a part of a generation growing into a disrupted world, are well aware of the need for fundamental changes to society to tackle climate change – and open to discussions about what this means in reality. They may not, however, have always encountered the technical term ‘climate justice’. Climate narratives that start with the ideas behind climate justice and the changes that are needed may therefore be more successful than those that use the term ‘climate justice’ as a starting point.


About the survey and the wider SPARK project

The survey was designed by researchers Dr. Susie Wang, Briony Latter, and Jenny Gellatly at Climate Outreach, and was carried out between 9 and 28 April 2021 by Qualtrics. It draws from previous Framing Climate Justice research carried out by PIRC, & NEON (2020).

The survey is the first stage in a major piece of pan-European audience research being led by Climate Outreach. The research explores youth attitudes to the interrelated issues of climate change, development, and gender equality, and will culminate in a Youth Climate Narratives Guide in 2022. The research forms part of the wider four-year project SPARK, delivered by a diverse consortium of 20 partner organisations from across Europe, and funded by the European Commission. The research will help inform the consortium’s activities and campaigns. See, for example, this video produced by Oxfam Intermon as part of the Spark project, using the survey results for Spain.

This blog has been produced with the assistance of the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of Climate Outreach and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.

2 responses to Young Europeans say we need system change to tackle climate change – but most don’t know what ‘climate justice’ means

  1. Jenny Gellatly says: says:

    Hiya Roberto, thanks for your interest in this work. We don’t currently have a version in Italian, though we will be translating the final Youth Climate Narratives Guide into Italian. You could sign up to our newsletter below to hear when it’s released. Thanks!

  2. Roberto Guizzi says: says:

    Is it possible to get a link where I can find an Italian version of this interesting summary of the fondamentale points about Climate Justice ??
    Thanks for your attention
    Roberto Guizzi

By Jenny Gellatly

Since joining Climate Outreach in 2020, Jenny has been coordinating our work on the pan-European Spark project, a multi-year audience research project dedicated to developing knowledge and understanding on how to communicate climate justice with young adults in Europe. She believes in the need for action on ecological issues to be underpinned by principles of equity and justice.

Jenny brings experience of project management, community engagement, partnership working, research, training and facilitation. She has an undergraduate degree in Environmental Geography and International Development from the University of East Anglia. She is co-founder of School Farm Community Supported Agriculture and, prior to working at Climate Outreach, she worked as a Creative Associate with arts organisation Encounters, and as the Coordinator of Transition Town Totnes.

Jenny’s life has been split between Wales, where she grew up, England and Spain, where she met her husband. She speaks English, reasonable Spanish and, somewhere in the recesses of her brain, Welsh (though this needs attention). Outside of work, she cares for her one year old, travels between family in Wales, England and Spain and, when she can, likes to read sci-fi and get out on her bike in the rolling hills of Devon, where she now lives.

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