Scientist calls for more environmental understanding with economic security
While everyone is already feeling the effects of climate change, its consequences are still not the most pressing policy issues for the majority of Europeans. This is the result of a study by Jonas Peisker, a PhD student from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (https://iiasa.ac.at), in which he examined the influence of socio-economic, geographical and meteorological factors on the environmental preferences of people in 206 European regions.
Economy is decisive
According to Peisker, favourable economic conditions, such as a relatively high income level and low inflation, promote interest in environmental issues. This is probably related to the idea of a “finite pool of concerns”, in which more immediate issues such as economic security push less immediate issues such as climate policy into the background. What surprised Peisker more was the fact that rising energy prices only increase environmental concerns up to a certain point. After that, concerns tend to grow about whether energy supplies will continue to be secure.
No less surprising to the researcher was that regions with greenhouse gas-intensive industries triggered fewer environmental concerns among locals. This could be related to concerns about the possible disadvantages of rigorous environmental policies on economic competitiveness in the transition from fossil to clean technologies. Although environmental factors influence perceptions of environmental problems, the socio-economic context proved to be more important overall.
Equity as a priority
“The study’s findings underscore that social cohesion and a just transition to climate neutrality are key to supporting environmental policies. Climate policy and environmental protection are likely to be unpopular if they increase inflation, unemployment and the gap between rich and poor,” says Peisker. In order to gain more support for climate protection, the positive side effects of environmental policy, such as positive employment effects in the transition to renewables, must be emphasised. Finally, public support is crucial to enable stringent and sustainable environmental policies in democracies.