The second annual European Investment Bank climate survey details citizen global warming concerns—and what people want governments and businesses to do to stop climate change

Read the full EIB Climate Survey results here.

The European Investment Bank’s second annual climate survey details the knowledge, attitudes, actions, fears and recommendations of citizens by country across the European Union (including the UK, which was still a member of the European Union when the survey was carried out). It lays out a clear picture of behaviours and beliefs from Estonia to Portugal. Compiled with Paris-based polling company BVA, our survey also collates the country-by-country data to calculate averages for the European Union and compares them to the US and China, whose citizens were also included in our polling.

There is plenty of scientific evidence for climate change, of course, and mass demonstrations on our streets are but one manifestation of profound public misgiving. Our survey provides insight after insight into the depth of public concern and the areas of lifestyle and the economy affected by it.

Europe’s policy response to this climate crisis—and to the public’s anxiety—is based around the European Green Deal, in which the European Investment Bank is a key partner.

The European Commission has committed the continent to carbon neutrality by 2050. To make that happen, we need investment in climate action, environmental sustainability, innovation and cohesion. If we are to achieve our climate goals, we must invest in innovative technologies that accelerate our ability to counter climate change. We must ensure that societies everywhere make the transition to a climate-friendly economic reality without leaving anyone behind. We must also listen to the citizens who have spoken in our survey—and in demonstrations on the streets. In many ways, they are the same people. We found that more than a third of those we surveyed have already protested, petitioned their government or boycotted companies and brands, so as to fight climate change.

The European Investment Bank has already set itself up for this historic role. In November 2019, our board approved an increase to 50% in the share of our investment dedicated to climate action and environmental projects by 2025. We aim to support €1 trillion of total climate investment in the next decade. And we have a history of powerful action in support of poorer regions that goes back to our very first investments more than 60 years ago financing infrastructure and industry in southern Italy.

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Clean technology investment

Climate change was already a difficult issue to confront, even before the COVID-19 crisis struck at our economies. Though our Climate Survey 2019-2020 was carried out before COVID-19 emerged, the results nevertheless show that citizens of Europe and elsewhere are determined that their societies should move towards a new, green economy—and they expect policymakers to push ahead on this path.

We know we can do this. Significant investment is required to address climate change and sustainability, if we are to limit the global increase in temperature to below 1.5°C. As part of the COVID19 recovery package governments across Europe as well as the European Commission are – rightly – contemplating support packages of unprecedented scale. If we plan to spend so much public money, we need to be sure that this money is spent well and that it benefits the future generations who will have to reimburse it.

As an important first step, we will phase out energy projects that depend solely on fossil fuels. The burden of this change must be shared equitably across Europe. Therefore, it will be important to facilitate the transition for those facing the greatest challenge. We must offer a just transition. We will need to support growth and jobs in regions currently dependent on fossil fuels. Failure to do so would weaken European growth, but also the strength of the European project. The European project whose values are so keenly reflected in the responses of citizens to this survey.

As Europe’s climate bank, the European Investment Bank already makes massive investments in clean technologies. Just a small selection will demonstrate that our climate projects play a key role in advancing European technological innovation and ensuring that every region partakes in the development of our economy. We recently financed:

  • a floating wind farm off the Portuguese coast;
  • a ground-breaking Swedish factory developing lithium-ion batteries;
  • green urban transport in many cities, including Katowice, the capital of Poland’s Silesian mining region; and
  • an electric-car charging network in Central and Eastern European countries, including Poland and Slovakia.
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The climate crisis affords Europe an opportunity to redress its shortfall in innovative technological investment over the past two decades. As we look for creative ways to store clean energy or to move people around without pollution, it ought to be clear to businesses that there is demand among the public for these new technologies and that governments support their development. For example, 70% of Europeans have already switched to a green energy provider or would be willing to do so, according to our survey. In Italy, that figure is at 82%.

In the case of climate technology, the European Investment Bank believes that private investors will reverse the risk-aversion and venture capital shortfall that hampered European innovation in recent times. In our survey, citizens make it clear that they are ready to join this move and in some regions they are ready to make sacrifices for it. Consider that we found 70% of Europeans willing to pay an extra tax to fight climate change.

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Citizen concerns about global warming: How much do they care?

The depth of climate concern among the 30 000 citizens we surveyed stands behind the surprising finding that a majority of citizens are willing to pay a new tax. Europeans do not see the climate crisis as something happening elsewhere and to other people. Our survey illustrates that Europeans believe they and their children will be—if they aren’t already—directly affected by climate change:

  • 90% of Europeans believe their children will feel the consequences of climate change in their everyday lives
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  • 33% of Europeans believe they will have to move to a colder or warmer region or country because of climate change.
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Compare these striking numbers with the fact that only 9% of European citizens do not believe climate change is happening, compared to 18% in the United States. Europeans recognise the nature of the problem and, as our survey shows, have taken steps to counter it.

Our survey is a powerful tool for interpreting the variations in understanding of—and attitudes to—climate change across our continent. Southern Europeans, who so far are most affected by climate change, demonstrate a greater willingness to believe that climate change can be reversed. This optimism is important, because our study found that pessimism about whether climate change can be reversed leads to a fatalistic vision of the future, and that could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Climate change is, of course, neither a national nor even a continental phenomenon. So our survey examined the perceptions of climate change outside Europe, specifically among Chinese and American citizens. Though Americans are more sceptical than Europeans, it should be noted that even there we found that 76% of respondents believe developed countries have a responsibility to help developing countries fight climate change. This global front is cause for optimism, as is this finding from our survey: 80% of Chinese believe climate change is still reversible and 72% of them say their individual behaviour can make a difference in the climate fight. This is the kind of data that proves the European Investment Bank, Europe’s climate bank, should continue with partners around the world in its powerful development work, in which climate action is such a significant factor.

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Crowd in for climate

The climate technologies we finance—from the massive solar facilities at Ouarzazate in the Moroccan desert and off the German coast at Butendiek to a wind-farm run by a collective in Austria and single, off-grid solar panels on the roofs of homes in Congo—transform the critical need for climate action into investment opportunities. Our participation demonstrates the validity of any project’s business case, because of the depth of our expertise in climate action, and thus attracts private money into the climate battle alongside our own investments.

More and more disruptive ideas are out there. We just need to put more financing into the right hands. We must inspire the right people and work with the right partners. We have to push industries to be more creative and invent breakthrough technologies. Remember, our climate survey proves that there are customers waiting in every country of the European Union—and in China and the United States. For companies that are willing to invest in climate, it can be a source of future profit and growth.

Europe can reap many economic benefits by leading the way on climate action. European industries must show now that they truly want to be part of this. They need to innovate, create new solutions, commercialise new products and launch breakthrough technologies. Investments are urgently needed to drive down the cost of new technologies, increase efficiencies, support first-movers, and create new markets.

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Of course, this is not just a matter of investors wanting to help. The private sector obviously focuses on the bottom line. Putting money into new technologies and business models is risky and the outcomes are not guaranteed. However, this survey is one supportive element in the business plan of any company aiming to contribute to climate action. The market is there. These numbers prove it. Join with us—and the optimistic citizens of the world—to change our economies and build a clean, safe future.