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Europeans fear climate change more than financial turmoil, poll shows

An aeroplane in front of the setting sun. Climate change global warming
Europeans fear climate change more than financial turmoil, poll shows. Photograph: Julian Stratenschulte/EPA

Europeans believe that dangers of climate change represent a more serious problem than the current financial turmoil, according to a new poll.

The Eurobarometer poll (pdf) suggests that the majority of the public in the European Union consider global warming to be one of the world's most serious problems, with one-fifth saying it is the single most serious problem. Overall, respondents said climate change was the second most serious issue facing the world, after poverty.

Connie Hedegaard, European climate commissioner, said: "This is encouraging news. The survey shows that the citizens of Europe can see that economic challenges are not the only ones we face. A clear majority of Europeans expect their politicians and business leaders to address the serious climate challenge now."

She said it was striking that the public were even more concerned about climate change than in the runup to the landmark Copenhagen summit on climate change in late 2009.

The number of people rating climate change as a very serious problem has risen slightly, from 64% when the poll was last conducted in 2009, to 68% this year. When asked to rank the seriousness of the problem, people put it at 7.4 out of 10, compared with a score of 7.1 out of 10 two years ago.

People also said there were economic benefits to tackling climate change, with eight out of 10 people saying that dealing with the problem would provide an economic boost and create jobs. Two years ago the number was just under two-thirds.

There was also wide support for moving taxation to penalise greenhouse gas emissions and encourage energy efficiency, with an average of 68% of people across the EU in favour of such a move.

However, there was less enthusiasm for people taking personal responsibility for tackling climate change. Only one in five said they took personal responsibility, with more people saying it was the responsibility of national governments, EU authorities and businesses.

Despite this, most respondents said they had taken action to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the previous six months. But for the greatest number that action was recycling household waste, which ranks fairly low on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The results of the Eurobarometer poll were hailed by the European commission as evidence that the public across member states maintain support for measures to tackle climate change.

The commission is currently engaged in an argument over whether to toughen the EU's target of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 20% by 2020, compared with 1990 levels, to a more stretching target of cutting emissions by 30% by the same date.

Hedegaard wants to toughen the target but she is opposed by several other commissioners, including the energy commissioner, Günther Oettinger.

Hedegaard said on Friday: "The fact that more than three out of four Europeans see improving energy efficiency as a way to create jobs is a strong signal to Europe's decision makers. I see this poll very much as an encouragement for us in the commission to continue fighting for ambitious and concrete climate action in Europe."

Rémi Gruet, regulatory adviser to the European Wind Energy Association, said: "Science and public opinion are pointing in the same direction: more action on climate change. The survey is a wake-up call to decision-makers who need to embrace the economic and competitive benefits of progress on energy efficiency and renewables. It would be a historic mistake to listen only to those who have vested interests in climate-damaging fossil technologies."

The poll was conducted in June and questioned 27,000 people aged 15 and above in 27 countries.

Fiona Harvey

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