COP 21 leaders

What do people in Europe think about COP21, the big climate change conference happening now in Paris? Have they even heard of it? You might be surprised to find that despite all the attention the conference appears to have been getting, half of Europeans questioned were unaware it was happening.

People in five western European countries were questioned about their knowledge of the conference. Their level of awareness depended on where they lived. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as the host nation, 78 per cent of French people said they had heard of the United Nations-led initiative, compared with 59 per cent of Germans, 45 per cent of Belgians, 37 per cent of the Dutch and just one in three (34 per cent) of the British.

This averages out to just over half, or 50.9 per cent, of those polled.

Shame on the Brits, who didn’t fare much better in knowing what the conference is about. Just 19 per cent of the British people asked said they knew – less than one in five – compared with 50 per cent of French people, 30 per cent of Germans, 20 per cent of Belgians and 26 per cent of the Dutch.

Most people did however say they were personally interested in the negotiations. But they were cynical. Apart from in Belgium, only a minority thought it would really change things and provide practical solutions.

All in all, 90 per cent of Europeans felt that the emphasis on solving climate change should be placed on furthering technical progress.

The survey was conducted by Harris Interactive for SPIE Group by interviewing representative national samples of 1000 people in each of the five countries.

Do Europeans care about energy efficiency?

Energy efficiency – saving energy – is probably the area in people’s lives where they can make the most difference in their personal response to the challenge of climate change, so the pollsters quizzed Europeans on this too.

When the pollsters asked individuals who think their country is lagging behind on climate change what they thought the reason for this was, a lack of political will by their leaders in making energy efficiency a priority was the commonest reason: 84 per cent in the UK, 86 per cent in the Netherlands, 91 per cent in Belgium, 93 per cent in Germany and 94 per cent in France.

Despite being at the bottom of the league of awareness about COP21, Britons redeemed themselves here and by contrast came top over their neighbours in their awareness of the importance of energy efficiency: 94 per cent of them had heard of it and 70 per cent of them actually claimed to know what it is about.

Germany (where the figures are 92 per cent and 43 per cent, respectively) came second. Most French (68 per cent), Belgian (68 per cent) and Dutch (60 per cent) people also said they had heard of the term, but only a minority in France and Belgium went so far as to say they knew exactly what it entails (20 per cent and 18 per cent respectively).

Perhaps astonishingly, about one-third of people had never heard of energy efficiency in these countries.

Of those Europeans who had heard of it, they spontaneously associated energy efficiency with insulation and, to a lesser extent, solar power, energy-efficient equipment and smart energy management systems.

When they were shown a list of items representing energy efficiency, the idea that it is about preventing waste was the first thing mentioned by all Europeans, whether they were in France (52 per cent), Germany (52 per cent), Belgium (52 per cent), the Netherlands (46 per cent) or the UK (60 per cent).

Over eight out of 10 said they were careful about reducing energy consumption in their homes: 85 per cent in the Netherlands, 88 per cent in the UK, 91 per cent in Belgium and as many as 95 per cent in France and Germany.

In regards to public places, most Belgians and French said they were careful to reduce consumption (71 per cent and 69 per cent respectively), whereas the other nationalities appeared to be more circumspect (from 49 per cent in the Netherlands to 55 per cent in the UK).

Logically enough, the more directly a location falls within their scope of action, the more people said they took action to reduce energy consumption.

The survey found that in all the countries, property owners and people in households with an average income were more careful with their energy consumption than anybody else.

Interestingly, for retailers looking to reduce their overhead costs, in all five countries, most people believe that heating is set too high in shops, particularly in France (67 per cent), Germany (62 per cent), and Belgium (60 per cent) and to a lesser degree in the UK (54 per cent) and the Netherlands (49 per cent).

They do think that their own homes are heated to the right temperature (78 per cent of the Dutch, 70 per cent of the French, 69 per cent of Germans, 66 per cent of Belgians and 56 per cent of the British).

What is the ideal indoor temperature?

But what is the ideal temperature? The vast majority thought the ideal indoor temperature was above 19°C (64 per cent in the UK, 68 per cent in the Netherlands, 79 per cent in Belgium and as many as 85 per cent in Germany). Nearly one-third (32 per cent) thought the ideal heating temperature was 20°C and an average of 21 per cent said 21°C.

They all said they were willing to go along with recommendations on this matter, and more so in the workplace than at home.

While most Belgians (52 per cent) and Dutch (51 per cent) considered their countries were about average when it came to progress on energy efficiency, the Germans believed that they were in the lead (52 per cent) and the French thought they were lagging behind (51 per cent).

In all the countries, individuals and local authorities are seen as the most committed to energy efficiency, ahead of businesses and, especially, ahead of the State and its administrations (which are considered to be mobilised only by a minority in most countries).

The French are differentiated by the fact that they say that local authorities are more mobilised than other players, whereas the British tend to cite each player.

In all the countries, the greatest motivating factor for energy efficiency was reducing energy bills (from 85 per cent in the Netherlands to 93 per cent in Belgium). This was followed by the opportunity to receive tax benefits, though that point was less often mentioned by the British (75 per cent) than by other Europeans: 92 per cent in Belgium, 90 per cent in France, 89 per cent in Germany and 81 per cent in the Netherlands.

Other motivational factors were environmental, in particular, people’s desire to reduce pollution in their vicinity (from 89 per cent in France to 73 per cent in the Netherlands) and to ascertain a level of environmental awareness (from 85 per cent in France to 73 per cent in the UK).

The “first fuel”

Generally speaking, it is cheaper to invest in saving energy than in generating it, making energy efficiency the most cost-effective way of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. This is why the European Commission now refers to it as “the first fuel”.

A group of investors called the Energy Efficiency Financial Institutions Group, convened by the European Commission and the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative, has produced a report, Energy Efficiency – the first fuel for the EU Economy. How to drive new finance for energy efficiency investments, urging a dramatic increase in action on energy efficiency.

David Thorpe is the author of:

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