EU flag representing LIFE, a climate finance mechanism to support climate action
National Climate Action
The European Union plays a critical role in global climate policy. The European Commission, the executive of the EU, often sets centralized climate targets, which requires member states to focus on the issue. This also sends a message to the public that individuals should take climate change more seriously.
However, like a child resents the demands of their parents to do chores, animosity and negative sentiment toward the European Commission can cause Europeans to avoid this priority. However, climate and energy “self-identity” is not the same across member states in the EU. In the same way, it is likely engagement with climate change differs.
This blog post would be too long if I tried to cover all 28 member states of the European Union and their individual climate perceptions. So, I will highlight Germany, because it is the site of the recent United Nations climate conference as well as a prominent climate leader.
Effects of Climate Change
The effects of climate change don’t hit as close to home in Europe as they do in Africa or other developing nations that I’ve highlighted in my blogs. Just like meat eaters don’t see what it takes for a steak to arrive on their plate for dinner, citizens of developed nations are separated from the most severe effects of their fossil fuel use.
Yet, there will still be local impacts. Germany will experience warmer summers along with increased risk of flooding and drought. These consequences will affect agricultural productivity in the East and decrease winter tourism in the mountainous regions. Though still critical, these consequences are less threatening than the security issues faced on a daily basis by Africans and Pacific Islanders.
Public Awareness of Climate Change
Despite the difference in direct climate impacts, German citizens have a high level of environmental awareness and rank environmental protection as among the most important social issues facing the country.
A report about national climate perception suggests that the media has a significant impact. Citizens gather a majority of their information about climate change from TV programs, radio, and newspapers, and coverage is relatively high. This shows how an open press can have a positive impact on climate literacy.
Seemingly at odds with this level of support for climate, the economy relies significantly on industry and mining. While we were in Bonn, activists staged a coal protest in a mine near the conference site. Despite the national rhetoric, continued dependence on fossil fuels in Germany runs counter to the narrative that party delegates shared in support of renewable energy at the conference.
This compelling distinction inspired me to learn more about climate perception among the general public. Climate and environmental issues are often addressed in the context of the government’s energy transition plan, referred to as “Energiewende,” which aims to source 80% of energy from renewable sources by 2050.
The public has mixed opinions on the viability of this initiative, primarily as a result of coal dependence. Mining shapes the culture of certain regions and communities, like Bonn. Additionally, much of the benefit of the energy transformation is expected to support large corporations and industries, while the costs burden the general public.
Fossil fuel protests, positive media coverage, and a mixed political narrative add flavor to the discussion of climate change in Germany.
60% of Europeans recognize that climate change is harming people today. Only 41% of Americans share this sentiment. So despite its problems, among developed countries, Europe is a climate leader worthy of admiration. At least, there is a reason to have hope knowing that Europeans consider climate change a top priority.
Though it is difficult to assess how mobilized individual European citizens are overall, you can see the work of two climate leaders below:
Highlighting Local Solutions
- Camilla working for CARE in Copenhagen, Denmark. This job has enabled her to engage with innovative climate solutions that prioritize the well-being of women and children.
- “I am tenacious in addressing climate change, forging strong relationships with business partners, and finding solutions to some of society’s most complex problems.”
- Felix is an activist who was inspired to climate action by a compelling story of the unfortunate murder of conservationist, Jairo Mora, in Costa Rica. He now works in a Costa Rican community to train and employ indigenous people to rescue and protect leatherback sea turtles.
The leatherback sea turtle is the largest and most endangered of all turtles. They are affected by habitat loss and poaching.
They work to relocate nests from the encroaching shoreline, monitor eggs during the incubation period, and remove plastic pollution from the shoreline.
- “I am at COP 23 because I want to find people who do similar work successfully. I figured that maybe I will even find something totally new and inspiring. I met someone during the Conference of Youth who does an education and coral cloning program in the Bahamas. This encouraged me to move away from the ecotourism thing and discover education instead. I want to promote research and information-sharing along with my turtle rescue efforts.”