eupinions echo 8 Jan, 2021

How has the Coronavirus Impacted Europeans' View on the Environment?

Climate change is still a top priority for most EU citizens but few have changed their own ways

eupinions echo How has the Coronavirus Impacted Europeans' View on the Environment?

Every week, surveys from all across the EU tell us what Europeans are thinking, feeling and talking about. In our segment, eupinions echo, we collect these voices and play them back to you. Each week, we highlight one survey of particular interest in a short blogpost and share daily new survey results via our website and our twitter channel.


The year 2020 has confronted the world with several crises and challenges, large and small. Now, barely two weeks into the new year, we have been shown vividly that none of those challenges have magically disappeared over New Year's. The US still has to fear, and react to, the whims of a manic president who threatens the peaceful transfer of power after a democratic election and while the world watched in shock as a mob of Trump supporters stormed the capitol of the world's once greatest democracy, the coronavirus continues to cause daily deaths in Europe and abroad, while straining national economies to their limit.

With the dominance of such immediate challenges, other more long-term crises, such as climate change and the environment in general have been somewhat pushed out of recent talk and media coverage. But have issues of the environment taken a backseat in people's personal priorities, too? A recent survey by Ipsos, carried out in September and published in December, seeks to answer that question. In this blogpost, we want to take a look, specifically, at the European sections of their data set to see how Europeans currently prioritize issues of the environment, how the Coronavirus has changed their view on these issues and how they envision a path forward in tackling these issues.


Unsurprisingly, the coronavirus remains at the top of everybody's list of concerns. Globally 59% of respondents put the virus as a top concern on their worry list while only 39% did so for the environment, making it the 6th most worried about issue overall. Looking at Europe, people seem to be slightly more concerned, as the environment makes it into the top five concerns of every European country surveyed except for Spain and the UK. When asked, however, how their focus on environmental issues has developed over the cause of the last year and due to the pandemic, a different view of European priorities emerges.

While 60% of the world's average respondents stated that since the start of the pandemic, they had paid more attention to their own environmental impact, only 39% of Europeans said as much. This makes Europe the continent with the lowest positive reply rate to that question. Shares of people who stated that they wore more worried about climate change today, than they had been one year ago, similarly were lowest in Europe when compared to the other continents, and global average. This result comes as a bit of a surprise as Europeans have been comparatively proactive when it comes to matters of climate change and the environment in the past. Essentially, there are two possible explanations that can be interpretated from Ipsos data set for this finding.

Firstly, it is possible to connect Europeans' lowered focus on the environment during the past year to the fact that they also comparatively experience the fewest direct effects of climate change. While globally an average of 34% of respondents stated they had absolutely already noticed effects of climate change first hand in their region, only 21% of Europeans said so. Secondly, the fact that fewer Europeans have increased their focus on the environment since last year could also be explained through a higher initial awareness and willingness to do something about the issue in Europe to begin with. Afterall, we did see earlier in the data that Europeans generally prioritized the environment higher on their list of concerns than people from other parts of the world did. We see further prove for this idea when looking at individual actions for fighting climate change that people integrate into their everyday life. If we compare the world average to the response rates in France for example, we see that while 50% of people globally tend to sort their waste and 34% take care to limit their heating and air conditioning, 81% and 49% of French respondents did so respectively.


Finally, the Ipsos survey also examined how people viewed the individual responsibilities to fight climate change and protect the environment versus the responsibilities of the state and the authorities. Here, Europeans are notably more unsatisfied with their governments' actions thus far, than respondents from other regions. While 37% of respondents globally feel like their governments' have not yet implemented any meaningful actions to combat climate change, there are four EU member states (Italy 62%, Spain 52%, Belgium 51% and France 51%) where more than half of all respondents shared this opinion. It seems then, that even though other crises have currently taken over the top ranks of European concerns, this does not mean that Europeans have lost their awareness for the crucial importance of the climate crisis going forward.



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Ipsos, in cooperation with EDF, carried out the mentioned survey between the 9th to 29th of September 2020. A total of 24,004 individuals from 20 countries were questioned, representative of local populations and demography.