People in Germany, France, the UK and Norway have mixed views on role of human activity in climate change

Climate change scientists still have a big communications challenge ahead to persuade European consumers there is virtually a scientific consensus on climate change and the role human activity plays, new consumer research suggests.

According to a survey carried out in Germany, France, the UK, and Norway on European perceptions of climate change, the majority of respondents did not believe that there is the strong scientific consensus that actually exists among climate change scientists on the evidence showing the human component to global warming.

While a vast majority of the natural scientists who study climate change agree on anthropogenic climate change (that is, the role human activities play), the survey found in Germany only one-in-four of consumers surveyed (24%) thought there was such a strong consensus with this belief only being slightly higher in France, Norway and the UK. A fifth of those surveyed (a spread 18%-20% across the four countries) thought there is an even divide of opinion within the scientific community about anthropogenic climate change.

Despite this lack of awareness about the views of most natural scientists who study climate change, a majority of respondents across all four countries – between 83-92% – thought that the world’s climate is changing and that this is at least partly caused by human activity.

However, when asked what they thought were the most important issues facing their country in the next 20 years (before being told the survey was about climate change), climate change ranked low among those surveyed. Instead, most frequently mentioned topics were issues such as unemployment, immigration and the economic situation. Climate change was initially not mentioned much at all – by 2% in the UK; 3% in Germany; 6% in France and 10% in Norway.

When asked specifically about climate change, respondents associated this mostly with global warming and weather changes such as becoming wetter, hotter or weather becoming more extreme and unpredictable.

Consumers split over how much they worry about climate change

The survey found that significant numbers were ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ worried about climate change with French respondents being most worried (41%) and the British the least worried (20%). 30% of Germans and 29% of Norwegians were very or extremely worried about climate change.

In terms of the level of climate ‘scepticism’ respondents in all four countries were divided with 34%-55% thinking that human activity is the main or only cause of climate change while 34%-57% think that climate change is caused by a mix of natural processes and human activity. Germany at 15% and the UK at 13% had the highest number of climate sceptics among those surveyed with people not convinced about human activity as a cause of climate change or believing that climate change is not happening.

The survey, published in March, was carried out by a team of cross-country researchers trying to help understand how perceptions of climate change are formed and shaped within a national context and with very varied energy systems and policies. The survey forms part of The European Perceptions of Climate Change Project (EPCC) coordinated by Cardiff University in the UK and formed part of the Joint Programme Initiative-Climate Change (www.jpi-climate.eu), a research programme funded by National Research Councils across Europe.

Source: Steentjes, K., et al. (2017). European Perceptions of Climate Change: Topline findings of a survey conducted in four European countries in 2016. Cardiff: Cardiff University.