Navigating Climate Change in Europe: The Choices Ahead


Addressing climate change is a major subject of conversation and preoccupation for people in Europe and around the world. Dire reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predict calamitous outcomes for the natural world and humanity if dramatic measures are not urgently taken to curtail carbon emissions and transition to cleaner, sustainable practices.

But climate change efforts face major obstacles. First, there is a disconnect between the widespread recognition of the problem and the comparatively scarce confidence in the processes seeking to address it. While nearly eight in ten Europeans are worried about climate change, just one in ten has confidence that international efforts to address climate change are succeeding. Furthermore, Europeans say other issues, especially the conflict in Ukraine and the rapid rise in cost of living, are foremost on their minds for governments to address. Finally, the general political environment is defined by division. In our study, fewer than 1 in  5 Europeans said they feel their country is united and the word “divided’” was the top ranked description for five of six countries we studied.

"Navigating Climate Change in Europe: The Choices Ahead" draws on polling from 26,000 people and over 50 focus groups across France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK in 2021 and 2022 and explores how best to build on the wide public consensus for climate action to advance much-needed climate solutions.

We make observations and recommendations that we hope will aid civil society organisations, the Green movement, and those in policymaking roles to elevate the prioritisation of climate change in Europe and successfully advance climate solutions. In addition to using standard demographic analyses, we also draw on our segmentation studies in Germany, France, and the UK to examine the relevance of the psychology and values of key subgroups as they relate to climate change. Our recommendations draw on points of broad agreement that we hope will work not only to advance climate change policies, but also diffuse political division and deepen a sense of common cause.

Key Findings 

1. Climate change is not (just) a youth issue

  • Despite how it may appear from media coverage and high profile protests, concern about climate change is not unique to younger Europeans.

  • While those under 30 are twice as likely to attend a protest or become a vegan as those over 55, those behaviours are generally rare. Across Europe, only 4% have attended a climate protest, for example. And older Europeans are much more likely than younger ones to take other measures, such as recycling or conserving electricity and heating.

  • With few exceptions, older generations in each country match or exceed younger generations’ levels of concern about climate change, sense of personal responsibility to address it, and desire for a future that is green.

2. Few are convinced of climate change solutions

  • Efforts to raise public concern about global warming appear to have largely succeeded. Fully 2 in 3 across Europe believe governments “should act to address climate change, regardless of what others are doing” and similar numbers believe their governments are “not doing enough” on environmental issues.

  • But the public lacks confidence in the value and efficacy of the policies that will transition societies towards a greener, healthier future.

  • A mere 13% believe that international efforts to address climate change are succeeding, and most citizens do not expect any personal benefit of environmental policies; just 27% expect they will make their lives better. 

3. Climate scepticism is part of a larger phenomenon of distrust 

  • Distrust in institutions is high across Europe. This reality may be a driving reason why most citizens prefer a gradual pace of change to a radical one. Low trust therefore complicates efforts to effect needed and urgent policy changes.
  • Citizens characterised by the highest levels of distrust in major institutions and alienation from broader society appear to be the most likely to be sceptical of human-driven climate change.
  • This suggests that climate opposition may be driven less by the particulars of the issue and more by an underlying phenomenon of distrust. For instance, those who have chosen not to get vaccinated against COVID-19 are markedly less likely to be concerned about climate change.