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Europeans embrace recycling to fight climate change, but not renewable energy

Europeans consider climate change to be the second-most serious problem facing the world today, but paying for green / renewable energy or installing solar panels or wind turbines are the least popular method to address the challenge.

Climate change trails only poverty as the most serious problem in the world, according to a special EuroBarometer survey of 26,719 people in the 27 countries. Only one in 10 believe climate change is not a serious problem and the majority believe that it is possible to take actions to fight climate change, through for example using renewable energy, energy efficiency and recyling.

“Actions that include the development and use of alternative fuels will be welcomed by more than three-quarters of Europeans; however, the results suggest there may be less support for biofuels than other forms of alternative fuels,” it explains. “Support for alternative forms of energy is crucial, as current mainstream forms of energy generation are one of the biggest contributors to climate change.”

At least 6 out of 10 Europeans are taking personal actions to fight climate change, with those doing so being most likely to have a strong belief in the seriousness of climate change and the fact that we can do something about it.

Recycling and separating waste are the most common actions being taken, and 63% of respondents say they try to reduce consumption of energy at home and another 55% try to conserve water. Almost half of people who are taking action are reducing their consumption of plastic bags and other disposable items, while one-third are trying to buy seasonal food and reduce consumption of food that has been transported long distances.

Only 28% are choosing an environmentally friendly way of transport (public transport or bicycles); 24% have reduced use of their car; 20% have purchased a more fuel efficient car; and 11% avoid taking short haul flights were possible.

“Greener energy options are the least popular, with only 9% switching to a greener energy tariff or supplier, and only 6% having installed their own energy generation equipment such as solar panels or wind turbines,” the report notes, although half say they are willing to pay more for these options. These response rates are unchanged since the last time this question was asked in March 2008.

Citizens in Luxembourg, Malta, Sweden and Slovakia are most likely to be turning their beliefs into actions, while more is needed to encourage Bulgarians, Latvians, Lithuanians and Romanians to fight climate change on a personal level.

Respondents in the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium and Britain are most likely to have switched supplier or tariff to a greener or renewable option. Although installing renewable energy units such as solar panels or wind turbines “is a large step and one not available to many who live in high density city housing,” at least 10% of respondents in Malta, Austria, Germany and Belgium have installed renewable energy generation equipment at home. Only Sweden has seen a large change in installing renewable energy equipment at home since March 2008, with the proportion taking this action decreasing from 19% to 9% this year.

The socio-demographic analysis suggests that women are more likely to take actions to fight climate change, as are more educated people, while younger age groups are least likely to act. Those who consider climate change to be a serious problem are more likely to take the simple actions (recycling, saving energy) but they are not more likely to have switched to a greener energy supplier or install renewable energy generation equipment at home.

When Europeans are asked if they are willing to pay more for greener forms of energy such as renewable energy and, if so, how much more, 49% said they are willing to pay more for alternative forms of energy, of which 25% are willing to pay 1%-5% more and an additional 20% would be willing to pay 6%-20% more. Only 4% would be willing to pay more than 20%, while 27% are unwilling to pay any extra for green energy and 24% of respondent had no opinion.

On average, Europeans are ready to pay 6.6% more for energy produced from sources that emit less GHG in order to fight the climate change, the report calculates. This is down from an average of 7.2% in the last EuroBarometer.

When analysed on individual countries, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Luxembourg are most willing to pay more for greener forms of energy, while Latvia, Estonia, the Czech Republic and Germany are the least likely to pay more. In terms of cost premium, Sweden, Malta, France and Luxembourg are willing to pay the most for greener or renewable energy, while Austria and the Czech Republic are the least.

Men are more willing to pay extra for greener / renewable energy than women, while women are more likely to say they don’t know if they would pay extra. Older respondents are least willing to pay extra while higher-educated people are most likely to pay more and most likely to have an opinion.

“The results suggest strategies to target older Europeans may be warranted as this group are the most likely to consider climate change is not a serious issue,” the report concludes. “While considerable country variations on individual measures have been discussed throughout this report, the broader picture that emerges is one of a Europe where the majority believe climate change is a serious issue, and support greater action from all levels of society in the fight against climate change.”

The survey provides detailed breakouts on all questions for the 27 countries.

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Energy efficiency  •  Green building  •  Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Solar electricity  •  Solar heating and cooling  •  Wind power