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BJE32H Snowman Demo 2010 on the Schlossplatz, Castle Square, Berlin, Germany, Europe.
Climate change demonstation on the Schlossplatz, Berlin, Germany, in 2010. Credit: Lothar Steiner/Alamy Stock Photo.
PUBLIC OPINION
12 December 2017 10:14

Germans most worried about climate change, analysis shows

Jocelyn Timperley

Jocelyn Timperley

12.12.2017 | 10:14am
Public opinionGermans most worried about climate change, analysis shows

People living in Germany are the most worried about climate change, according to new analysis of 18 countries published this week.

The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) examined data collected by the European Social Survey on public attitudes to climate change of 16 European countries, Russia and Israel.

Of these 18 countries, it found Germans are the most concerned, with 44%  “very or “extremely” worried about climate change. At the other end of the spectrum, just 15% of Poles say they are “very or “extremely” worried.

Meanwhile, 15% of Russians say that the world’s climate is definitely not changing, compared to an average of 3% across all countries included.

The survey also looked at how political orientation and age affects concern about climate change, and how confidence that governments will act to tackle it varies across countries.

Map

The map below shows the proportion of respondents in each country who say they are “very” or “extremely” worried about climate change. The data comes from European Social Survey, collected in late 2016 and early 2017 (see below for details on the data).

This survey asked people to express their level of worry about climate change on a scale from “not at all worried” to “extremely worried”.

Proportion of people “very” or “extremely” worried about climate change across 17 countries.  Data collected in late 2016 and early 2017. Note that those who had responded to a previous question that climate change is not happening were included in the proportions, but are not directly asked the question. Note that the data also includes Israel, not shown on the map, but included in the chart below. Source: L. Barasi, R Harding and A. Dunatchik 2017. 

Overall, 44% of German respondents say they were “very or “extremely” worried, followed by France and Slovenia (each 33%), and Iceland and Belgium (each 32%).

The UK sits roughly in the middle, with 24% “very” or “extremely” worried.

Meanwhile, Poland and Estonia had the lowest proportion of people “very” or “extremely” worried, each 15%, followed by Russia (16%) and Ireland and Israel (19%).

The following chart presents the same data broken down in full. Also included in this chart are the proportions of respondents saying climate change is “not happening”. These people were not asked how worried they are.

Response to question, ”How worried are you about climate change” by survey participants in 18 countries and total average response (“All countries”). Note that those who had responded to a previous question that climate change is not happening (grey) are included here, but were not directly asked the question. Source: L. Barasi, R Harding and A. Dunatchik 2017. 

The chart shows how the level of worry about climate change breaks down differently across the various countries.

France had the most respondents (9%) who say they are extremely worried about climate change, followed by Germany (7%). But Germany had the most (37%) who say they were very worried about climate change, with the two measures together putting them in first place in the map above.

Russia, meanwhile, had the most respondents who say they thought climate change was not happening (15%), roughly equivalent to the number very or extremely worried about climate change (16%). Israel also showed a relatively high proportion (8%) who think climate change is not happening, though here a higher number (19%) say they are very or extremely worried.

Of those who say climate change is happening to some extent, Estonian and Czech people were the least worried about it, each with 41% saying they are “not at all” or “not very” worried. Israel (39%), Sweden (35%) and Poland (33%) also had relatively high levels of people who say this. Swedish respondents were also most likely to agree that climate change is happening (95.5%).

Political orientation

The new analysis also looks at how levels of worry vary by stated political orientation. Left-leaning respondents are more likely to be very or extremely worried, as the chart below shows.

Response to the question, “How worried are you about climate change” by stated political orientation for the 18 countries listed in the chart above. Note that those who had responded to a previous question that climate change is not happening (grey) are included, but are not directly asked the question. Source: L. Barasi, R Harding and A. Dunatchik 2017.

The results show a slightly higher proportion of people who consider themselves right-wing believe climate change is not happening compared to those who said they were left wing (5.0% compared to 4.3%).

Of those who do believe the climate is changed to some extent, those on the right were least worried about it, with some 30% of survey respondents either “not at all” or “not very” worried, compared to 17% of those on the left. Meanwhile 38% of those on the left said they were  “very or “extremely” worried, compared to 21% on the right.

The analysis showed that worry level in some countries is more polarised across political orientations than for others. In the UK, for example, 39% on the left said they were “very or “extremely” worried, compared to 17% on the right. Note, though, that the UK also had a lower proportion of people (1.6%) who think climate change is not happening than the average across all countries (3%).

Of those who do believe the climate is changing to some extent, those on the right are least worried about it, with some 30% of survey respondents either “not at all” or “not very” worried, compared to 17% of those on the left. Meanwhile, 38% of those on the left say they were “very or “extremely” worried, compared to 21% on the right.

The analysis shows that the degree of concern in some countries is more polarised across political orientations than for others. In the UK, for example, 39% on the left say they are “very or “extremely” worried, compared to 17% on the right.

The analysis also looked at how concern breaks down by age across the 18 countries, shown in the chart below.

Response to the question, “How worried are you about climate change” by age for the 18 countries listed in the chart above. Note that those who had responded to a previous question that climate change is not happening (grey) are included, but were not directly asked the question. Source: L. Barasi, R Harding and A. Dunatchik 2017.

As the chart shows, worry level about climate change does not appear to change steadily with age. Most concerned are those aged 55-64, 29% of whom say they are “very or “extremely” worried, followed by the 15-24 and 45-54 age brackets.

Confidence in government action

The survey also asked those who believe climate change is happening if they are confident governments will take action to reduce it. People were asked to rate their confidence level on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 for “not at all likely” and 10 for “extremely likely”. The chart below shows how responses break down among different countries.

Response to the question, “How likely do you think it is that governments in enough countries will take action that reduces climate change?” by country. Note that those who had responded to a previous question that climate change is not happening are not included. Source: L. Barasi, R Harding and A. Dunatchik 2017.

The results show German respondents are among the least confident in government action, as well as being most worried about climate change. Fifty-one per cent of Germans rated the likelihood of government action at three or lower, while just 10% rated their confidence level above seven.

British respondents are also pessimistic about government action, with 33% answering three or lower and just 13% answering seven or above.

Confidence about action was relatively high among those in Finland, Sweden and Israel, where around 25% answered seven or higher.

The report says:

Here we find an interesting contrast. In aggregate across the 18 countries the more that people are concerned about climate change the slightly more optimistic they are that enough governments will take action to tackle it. This is also typically the case within countries; with those people relatively more concerned tending to be relatively more optimistic.

However, the opposite applies when we look at the differences between countries. Countries that are on average more concerned about climate change tend, on average, to be more pessimistic that action will be taken.

What does it mean?

It’s important to put the results of the survey in the context of other findings on attitudes towards climate change.

Earlier this year, a Pew Research centre global survey found climate change was seen as one of the top threats to respondents’ countries, coming second only to ISIS. (In the UK and Germany, climate change was ranked third after the threat of cyber attacks.)

BG73AA Young female COP15 demonstrators for Climate Justice. Copenhagen.

Demonstrators for climate justice at COP15, Copenhagen. Credit: OJPHOTOS/Alamy Stock Photo.

The UK government also tracks public attitudes to climate change. In its latest survey, 71% of respondents say they are very or fairly concerned about climate change. Some 10% say they believe climate change is mainly down to natural processes.

It’s worth noting that the new NatCen analysis did not look at the extent to which those who think climate change is happening consider it to be natural or manmade. (The original survey did ask this, but it has not been assessed for this NatCen analysis.)

A 2016 IPSOS survey of 21 countries found 43% of respondents agreed with the statement: “The climate change we are currently seeing is a natural phenomenon that happens from time to time”, although only five of these 21 countries overlap with the countries included the new NatCen analysis.

Leo Barasi, co-author of the new report, tells Carbon Brief that differences in question wording can impact the results of polls.

For example, if you ask which issue respondents think should be the government’s top priority, climate change often comes lower than more immediate concerns. But governments do more than one thing at a time, so what’s arguably more interesting is a question that shows whether people want governments to take strong measures to deal with it. Measuring worry about climate change is one way of understanding that.

Barasi adds that he thinks this is the first time he has seen German respondents emerge so clearly as the most worried in Europe. He puts this down in part to the way the question was asked, which means it was not measuring exactly the same thing as other polls.

The European Social Survey was conducted in late 2016 and early 2017, with a target sample size of 1,500 people aged 15 or above per country (or 800 for countries with populations less than two million). In total 34,563 people were surveyed across the 18 countries. Data are weighted to correct for unequal selection probabilities, though the report notes that It is likely that once calibration weighting (due for release in Spring 2018) is applied the figures will likely change slightly.


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