Climate change: From awareness to action

This article is a summary of public perceptions in Europe and the United States regarding climate emergencies extracted from the report From Climate Change Awareness to Climate Crisis Action published by the think tank and the Open Society Foundations.

At a key time like the present, we consider it vitally important to know how climate change is understood on the street, what are the short and long-term policies on this topic, and what implication ideology has in all of this.

While most respondents were aware of the climate emergency and its negative consequences for humanity, simultaneously there is still confusion about the scientific consensus around climate change. This, according to the report, has created a gap between public awareness and climate sciences. Similarly, the public may be underestimating the urgency of the crisis and unable to appreciate the magnitude of the action that needs to be taken to remedy it.

Context and politics

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that states can act decisively and take far-reaching measures in the event of an emergency. However, the response to the climate crisis has so far been relatively cautious.

As the report shows, the European Union aspires to be a “climate leader” and has taken several decisions to try to reduce its carbon footprint. The latest proposal from the European Commission in this regard is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030.

In this regard, and taking into account government policies, the report notes that:

  • Communication efforts on climate change should focus on raising awareness of the root causes and magnitude of the impact of climate change.
  • Skepticism about climate change and lack of awareness alone cannot explain the moderate sense of urgency that people have.

The report also suggests that it should be political leaders who show leadership through their help and support of guiding citizens to action.

Some relevant data from the report

Here are some of the most relevant data from the report From Climate Change Awareness to Climate Crisis Action:

  1. Most Europeans and Americans are aware that the climate is changing and that human activities contribute significantly to it. However, there are still many people who underestimate the importance of the climate emergency.
  2. In seven of the nine countries surveyed they are convinced that their lives will change “only slightly” if climate change moves forward in the future.
  3. The vast majority of Europeans and Americans agree that climate change requires a collective response and are prepared to make changes in their daily behavior (consumption and travel).
  4. The results show that while demographic factors do not appear to have a strong relationship to respondents ’level of concern, political orientation does.

Participation and concerns

According to the report, most respondents would agree that climate change requires a collective response. Likewise, they would be willing to make sacrifices or changes in their day to day life, but within varying degrees. This results in varied involvement between countries and according to their awareness of social causes.

When respondents are asked to select from a list of ten issues – such as climate change, migration, health care, education, security and employment – which they consider should be a priority in his government’s agenda, “climate change” is the most selected option in France and Germany. The second most selected option in the United Kingdom, Sweden, Poland and France, and the third most selected option in the United States and Spain. In the Czech Republic alone, climate change is not among the three most selected topics, but ranks fifth.

It should come as no surprise to us that, considering the current pandemic, the most selected option in general has been “health”.

Final conclusions and recommendations

  1. It is not enough to say that climate change is taking place. Many people are unaware of the role that humans play, the scientific consensus, or the severity of the pre-existing crisis.
  2. Clear leadership is urgently needed from political actors and civil society.
  3. Engagement strategies must take into account the respective political landscapes because political leanings affect people’s views on the climate crisis.
  4. Political actors must exercise leadership and build on the desire of the people for governments to take responsibility.
  5. Political actors should focus on actions not focused on taxation or prohibition.
  6. Climate emergency communications need to be worked on more to get people to understand the effectiveness of anti-crisis actions.
  7. We need to help people understand the nature and impact of climate change to make others understand the need for collective action and global policy measures.

If you’ve been wanting to learn more about climate emergency, citizen action, and public policy in Europe and the United States, we recommend you read the full report From Climate Change Awareness to Climate Crisis Action!

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