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Europeans unwilling to accept lifestyle changes to tackle climate crisis, poll finds

Europeans want urgent action on climate change but are reluctant to embrace lifestyle changes, a poll has found.

Conducted by the YouGov-Cambridge Centre for Public Opinion Research, the poll of seven Western European countries showed that up to 50 per cent of people were reluctant to give up eating meat and were opposed to bans on new petrol or diesel vehicles.

The petrol ban attracted different results depending on the country; in Germany for example, 70 per cent of respondents said they were concerned about climate change, but 50 per cent opposed such a ban. In the UK, a similar 76 per cent of those polled said they were either very or fairly concerned about climate change, but only 27 per cent indicated opposition to a ban on new petrol or diesel vehicles.

Meanwhile, participants were not enthusiastic about eating less meat despite the wide acceptance of its environmental benefits. All seven countries showed majorities who eat meat at least several times a week.

Within the meat-eating section of respondents, only a small proportion claimed to have reduced their meat consumption over the past 12 months, and of those, generally around half or under had done so for environmental reasons.

The results also showed that even as the UK prepares to host crucial climate talks in Glasgow next month, barely a third of British adults have noticed that the event is taking place.

Just 31 per cent of British adults had read or heard much about COP26, compared with 63 per cent answering to the contrary. When the same question was asked of the other countries, awareness of the climate conference was even lower.

However, the poll indicates that while survey participants may not be following COP26, a significant majority of the 9,000 people polled across the UK, Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden, Spain and Italy strongly support many of the aims of the talks, at least in principle.

Dr Emily Shuckburgh OBE, director of Cambridge Zero, the university’s climate change initiative said: “As the impacts of climate change are starting to be felt everywhere, COP26 should be seen as a vital summit where the world must deliver immediate and meaningful climate action.

“But the bad news is that most people have still barely noticed that the world leaders who can actually take the actions needed will be in our own backyard.”

Dr Joel Rogers de Waal, academic director of YouGov, said: “The good news for COP26 organisers is that in every country surveyed, the vast majority are on board with the programme, at least in principle. In each national sample, most agreed that climate change is a genuine phenomenon and a considerable concern, and rejected the idea that its seriousness is being exaggerated.”

The polling also showed widespread enthusiasm for “rewilding”, with 70 per cent support in Britain and 79 per cent in Spain for programmes to restore parts of the country to their natural state. Such measures could also help countries to cut their carbon emissions as plants and deep peats can form part of a carbon sink.

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