A new survey on Monday (5 July) reveals that for the first time European citizens consider climate change as the single most serious problem facing the world – despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
Climate change was the most-mentioned global problem by respondents in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, Belgium and Finland. By contrast, less than a third said so in Romania, Bulgaria and Latvia.
Around four-in-ten respondents in the Eurobarometer survey, concluded at the end of April, say they are personally responsible for tackling climate change, while the majority said they were doing something to improve the situation.
Some 75 percent of citizens are regularly recycling and trying to reduce waste, while close to 60 percent are cutting down on the use of disposables, such as plastic bags, cups or straws.
A third of Europeans, meanwhile, are adopting different dietary habits, buying more organic food and eating less meat.
Nevertheless, the vast majority of Europeans say that national governments, business and industry and the EU institutions are responsible for tackling climate change within the 27-nation bloc – with three-quarters of respondents saying that their own government is not doing enough.
Most people consider that the pandemic recovery fund should mainly be invested in renewables and green technologies, rather than in the traditional fossil-fuel economy. This was especially important for those in Ireland, Portugal, Denmark, and Belgium.
Overall, more than half of respondents see greening the economy after the coronavirus pandemic can have a positive outcome for EU citizens, in terms of creating new jobs, improving public health, and increasing energy security.
However, at least a quarter of respondents in Croatia, Poland, Latvia and Romania consider that the recovery funds should be invested in fossil fuels.
Notably, 10 percent of Spaniards had no opinion about whether the recovery funds should support the green economy.
“Despite the pandemic and the economic hardship Europeans are facing, support for climate action remains high,” said the EU commissioner for the Green Deal, Frans Timmermans.
“Europeans recognise the long-term risks posed by the climate and biodiversity crises, and expect industry, governments and the European Union to take action,” he added.
The European Commission is expected to present in mid-July its so-called ‘Fit for 55’ package of revised climate and energy laws – aiming to align EU’s legislation with the new climate target.
The proposed changes range from increasing renewables targets and introducing new CO2 limits for cars and vans, to establishing a carbon border-tax to protect EU companies.
‘Polluter pays’ – only if you can trace them
Meanwhile, public money has been often used to pay the cost of pollution and environmental damage caused by companies in the EU, despite the “polluter pays principle” reflected in EU law, according to a report of the European Court of Auditors.
EU auditors found that frequently the contamination of sites happened so long ago that polluters no longer exist, cannot be identified, or cannot be made liable.
As a result, environmental clean-up costs end up being borne by taxpayers. In 2016, the total cost of cleaning-up contaminated soil in the EU was estimated at €119bn.
“To deliver the EU’s Green Deal ambitions efficiently and fairly, polluters need to pay for the environmental damage they cause. Up to now, though, European taxpayers have far too often been forced to bear the costs that polluters should have paid,” said Viorel Ștefan, responsible for the report.