Monday

10th Dec 2018

Opinion

Climate change and the public: The end of a love story?

  • People have fallen out of love with the climate issue (Photo: Kelvin255)

Remember last year when the whole world was looking at a small and cold country in Europe - Denmark - mesmerized by an international conference on climate change known as COP15?

This year, many people won't even know where the follow-up conference, COP16, is taking place. While the next round of international climate negotiations in Cancun, Mexico is approaching fast, publics and the media on both sides of the Atlantic remain unfazed.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

As new polls show, people in fact aren't particularly concerned about climate change any more, don't see it as a top priority, and in some cases even doubt that it is really happening.

As the German Marshall Fund's Transatlantic Trends finds, only six percent of Americans list fighting climate change as a top priority for their country, while 20 percent of Europeans think it should be on the top of the list for their leaders. According to the Pew Global Attitudes survey, 52 percent of Germans consider climate change a serious problem, but only 46 percent of the French, 40 percent of the British, and 37 percent of Americans agree.

When asked if they would be willing to pay higher prices to address global climate change, more than half of German and British respondents were willing to do so, but just little under 40 percent of French and Americans approved.

These numbers are probably connected to a rising scepticism about climate change in general. In a February poll conducted by the BBC, only 26 percent of the British believed that climate change was happening and man-made, down from 41 percent only three months earlier.

In the United States, half of the population believes that global warming is due to human activities, down from 61 percent in 2003, according to a Gallup poll conducted in March.

This causes a potential problem for politicians when it comes to possible climate legislation. One of the issues with pushing forward any agenda on climate change is the simple fact that the effects of climate change are difficult to identify definitively at this moment. At the same time, ratepayers in the European Union are paying for feed-in tariffs and high taxes on fuel and voters in the United States are worried about potential costs of any climate legislation.

Republicans have already positioned themselves in opposition towards almost any legislation on climate change. With climate change legislation already being unpopular with the Democrats in power, it will become even more difficult in the future as the Republicans stand to take one or both houses in the mid-term elections.

Climate change legislation might be headed towards a rough period in Europe too. While the European Commission's Connie Hedegaard has announced her desire of raising carbon emission reductions in the EU to 30%, member states seem hesitant to follow. The proposal has been criticized in particular by southern and eastern European member states and a final decision isn't expected until next spring at the earliest.

In order to change this situation and get the public back on their side, politicians have to step up and make people understand that fighting climate change is important and worth their while. To do this, politicians need to re-frame the issue of climate change. They need to find a way to convey that it is one of the fundamental challenges of the 21st century while at the same time turning the tackling of climate change into a positive story.

And it can be a positive story: With more than 300,000 jobs created in Germany alone in the renewable energy market, it is a tremendous opportunity for businesses and employees alike worldwide. According to a 2009 McKinsey report, the United States alone could save a staggering $1.2 trillion by 2020 by investing in more energy efficient buildings and replacing appliances with energy-saving models. This would include cost savings of 10-20 percent on energy bills for individual households. Similar savings would be true for Europeans.

Politicians should broaden the narrative on climate change to incorporate these positive stories. They should talk about concrete opportunities for the people, meaning job creation and money savings.

President Obama announced in a recent interview with Rolling Stone Magazine that he would focus more on energy legislation next year, calling climate change an "urgent priority". If he is serious, let's hope he will use the right narrative to convey this to the American public.

Climate change isn't the hot topic that it used to be. But if politicians across the Atlantic are smart and re-work their narrative into stories with a positive appeal, Europeans and Americans might get excited about it once again.

Christina Elvers is a programme associate with the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

EU foot-dragging puts rule of law at risk in Hungary, Poland

The European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has yet to be heard on the forced eviction of the Central European University from Budapest to Vienna. Just months before crucial European parliament elections, EU leaders should not shy away from this debate.

Brexit, migration, cities - and the UN pact

It's not surprising that a handful of nationalist European governments – Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland and Italy – have followed Trump's lead in rejecting the UN's migration pact, to be formally adopted in Marrakech next week.

The EU's tax haven blacklist - impressive or impotent?

One year ago, the European Union published its first ever blacklist of tax havens. It is crucial that EU governments help end the era of tax havens to ensure the billions currently hidden from public coffers.

News in Brief

  1. Lead MEP on Morocco resigns position on trade file
  2. EU gives green light to new human rights sanctions
  3. May pulls vote, seeks to renegotiate Brexit 'backstop'
  4. Report: May cancels Tuesday's Brexit vote in parliament
  5. Belgium left with minority government after UN migration pact row
  6. EU court: UK can unilaterally revoke Article 50
  7. UK remains largest arms producer in western Europe
  8. Macron to address French nation in bid to calm tension

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. EU aviation agreement with Morocco in legal hot water
  2. Anti-semitism 'disturbingly normalised' in Europe
  3. Help consumers take cruelty away from EU's Xmas buffet
  4. EU court adds to knife-edge Brexit drama
  5. France and Germany back Dutch on human rights sanctions
  6. COP24: vital to keep big polluters away from climate policy
  7. EU foot-dragging puts rule of law at risk in Hungary, Poland
  8. Merkel loyalist AKK wins CDU leadership battle

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us