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Europeans Would Accept Climate Change Curbs

by: Ed Crooks    20 November 2006

Europeans are overwhelmingly convinced that human activity is contributing to global warming, and a majority would be prepared to accept restrictions on their lifestyle to combat it, according to a poll for the Financial Times.

Research carried out this month by Harris Interactive in Germany, France, the UK, Italy and Spain found that 86 per cent of people believed humans were contributing to climate change, and 45 per cent thought it would be a threat to them and their families within their lifetimes.

More than two-thirds - 68 per cent - said they would either strongly or somewhat support restrictions on their behaviour and purchases in order to reduce the threat.

Climate change has been rising up the political agenda in Europe. The recent British government report by Sir Nicholas Stern, former chief economist of the World Bank, argued that the economic costs of global warming could be far greater than the costs of acting to limit it.

The poll also found Europeans were more willing to accept curbs on their lifestyles in principle than to endorse specific additional burdens.

Less than half - 43 per cent - either strongly or somewhat supported a charge on airline passengers to pay for environmental damage, while 36 per cent opposed it, either strongly or somewhat. Support was weakest in Italy and Spain, possibly because of fears about the effect on their tourist industries.

Only a minority were prepared to make significant financial sacrifices to eliminate the threat of global warming. A quarter said they would pay one week's wages or more - roughly the 2 per cent of national income figure that Sir Nicholas Stern suggested rich countries might need to pay - but a third said they would not pay anything at all.

However, concerns about climate change and energy security have not translated into majority support for investment in new nuclear power stations.

Only 12 per cent of Europeans polled were strongly in favour of investment in new nuclear capacity, while a further 18 per cent were somewhat in favour - a total of 30 per cent. Almost as many - 29 per cent - strongly opposed new nuclear construction, with a further 17 per cent somewhat opposed.

There is also a remarkably deep gender divide, with a balance of men in favour of new nuclear building in France, Italy and the UK, but a majority of women opposed everywhere except the UK, where there is a large number neither for nor against.

Public opinion need not stand in the way of nuclear development. France is pressing ahead with a new reactor, which will go into construction next year, even though the poll shows just 29 per cent of the population supports it. But in Spain and Germany, where some in the industry hope government policy can be turned away from its official anti-nuclear stance, the high level of public opposition will provide a significant obstacle to a U-turn: 53 per cent of Germans and 62 per cent of Spaniards are against new nuclear building.

The answer, Europeans think, is renewables: 85 per cent believe their governments should spend more on renewable energy, while only a handful believe they should spend less. In France and Spain, more than 90 per cent backed more investment in renewables. The potential problem is the cost of that renewable energy.

Ahead of a summit of the leaders of the European Union and Russia at the end of this week, the poll also found widespread mistrust of Russia as an energy supplier. Only 21 per cent of Europeans believed Russia would be a reliable source of oil and gas in the future, while 35 thought it would not be.