Too far or not far enough? These are Europe’s most and least popular climate policies

A man attends a climate protest in Berlin, Germany.
A man attends a climate protest in Berlin, Germany. Copyright AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
By Rosie Frost
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button

Fears of a ‘green backlash’ at the European elections are unfounded, according to a new survey.

ADVERTISEMENT

Climate change is set to be one of the topics that dominate European election campaigns this summer.

But when voters hit the ballot box this June, some believe fatigue will see them turn towards politicians who roll back climate policies, scale down climate ambitions or ignore environmental action entirely.

A new report from researchers at Oxford University, Humboldt University Berlin, and Hertie School Berlin set out to uncover whether this is really true.

Researchers surveyed 15,000 people across Germany, France and Poland on how they felt about current climate policies. Voters were quizzed on whether they think measures go too far or not far enough. They were also asked about 40 specific policies to find out which were the most and least popular.

The report’s authors say their results refute theories of a ‘broad green backlash’ ahead of this year’s European Parliament election.

Concrete actions and climate concerns

Debate over environmental policy in the last few months has led to speculation that people across Europe are tired of green policies. But researchers found that this wasn’t the case across the three countries they surveyed, seeing no widespread backlash against climate policy.

Most still wanted more ambitious climate policy and would support concrete measures to bring emissions down. Asked whether existing climate policies have already gone too far or not far enough, a majority - 57 per cent in France, 53 per cent in Germany and 51 per cent in Poland - were in favour of further action.

Polish farmers, hunters, and their supporters, hold a protest in Warsaw, Poland, on Wednesday, 6 March, 2024.
Polish farmers, hunters, and their supporters, hold a protest in Warsaw, Poland, on Wednesday, 6 March, 2024.AP Photo/Michal Dyjuk

The majority support for more ambitious climate policy was mirrored by people’s concern over the impact of climate change on their lives. Around 60 per cent of people in Poland and Germany said they are already negatively impacted by climate change or expect to be in the next five to 10 years.

The impact of recent drought and drinking water shortages push that number up to 80 per cent in France.

There is a sizable minority that is against more ambitious climate action in all three countries. Around 30 per cent in Germany and Poland and slightly less at 23 per cent in France.

However, researchers say this group is “relatively stable over time”. The number of people in opposition doesn’t seem to have changed from similar surveys in 2021 and 2022 despite the narrative of growing backlash against climate policies ahead of the election.

And there is little evidence that this opposition is based in material concerns like employment, they add.

Which climate policies are the most and least popular?

While a majority of people still abstractly support ambitious action, their opinions vary when it comes to concrete climate policies.

Across all three countries, banning cars with internal combustion engines ranked at the bottom of the list for voters. Regulatory restrictions on gas and oil heating were particularly disliked in Germany and Poland.

Echoing earlier surveys, voters were also sceptical about carbon pricing, with the idea of putting a price tag on emissions especially unpopular for housing and transport.

An electric car is charged at a charging station.
An electric car is charged at a charging station.AP Photo/Jens Meyer, file

The most popular policies were investments in green infrastructure - like the electricity grid or public transport. Voters also generally support strategies like subsidies to help energy-intensive industries decarbonise or produce clean energy tech like wind turbines and solar panels.

The survey also found backing for bans on private jets and - except for in Poland - restrictions on short-haul flights.

Overall, policies and regulations that didn’t directly impact people’s everyday lives tended to be popular. These measures put the pressure to reduce emissions on public authorities and big companies rather than on consumers.

ADVERTISEMENT

Will rolling back green policies win voters?

While the current narrative might make rolling back unpopular climate policies seem like an easy win, the report’s authors argue that the reality is more complicated than that.

“Taking common armchair diagnoses about a green backlash at face value would be a mistake,” they write, as most voters still support more ambitious climate policy.

“A European election campaign in which parties try to outbid each other over who scales down their climate ambitions the most would simply misdiagnose where voters stand on the issue.”

Instead, the authors say that focusing on stronger green investment and industrial policies would be popular. For unpopular policies that need to be implemented to bring emissions down, “compensation is key”.

Across countries and party lines, voters are less opposed to climate action if governments also help those hit hardest by the measures.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Parties should not waste the coming months outbidding each other over how to cater to imagined climate fatigue but compete over concrete recipes to green the economy,” they conclude.

Share this articleComments

You might also like