Europeans Rank Environment Equal to Economic, Social Issues

BRUSSELS, Belgium, May 2, 2005 (ENS) - For Europeans, a healthy environment is as important to their quality of life as the state of the economy and social factors, a new Eurobarometer survey shows. The environmental issues that citizens worry most about are water pollution, air pollution, climate change, chemicals, and disasters caused by human activities such as oil spills and industrial accidents.

The survey is the first to examine attitudes towards the environment across the enlarged European Union with 25 member states. The survey was carried out between October 27 and November 29, 2004 on a sample of 1,000 citizens older than 15 in each member state.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said, "This survey is proof that European citizens care greatly about their environment, and believe that it is intrinsically linked to their quality of life. The results give a clear mandate to the Commission to continue working to deliver a high level of environmental protection.

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European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas in his office in Brussels (Photo courtesy Office of the Commissioner)
"Eurobarometer findings also confirm that the public shares the Commission’s conviction that a strong environmental policy can be an engine for innovation and growth,” the commissioner said.

Climate change was viewed as an issue of greater concern among the EU-15 - the states in the European Union before enlargement took place on May 1, 2004 - than among the 10 new member states that joined the EU on that date.

Eighty-eight percent of respondents said they believe that policymakers should take account of environmental concerns when developing policies in other areas such as economy and employment.

This view is expressed most strongly in the 10 new member states. Nine of the new member states, feature among the top 10 countries where the largest proportion of respondents believe policymakers should regard environmental issues as of equal importance to social and economic ones.

Asked to rate the influence of economic, social and environmental factors on their quality of life, 72 percent of those questioned said environmental factors influenced it “very much” or “quite a lot.”

Economic factors were described in this way by 78 percent, and social factors ranked as high as environmental issues.

The results confirm the findings of a February 2005 Eurobarometer poll on the Lisbon Agenda on competitiveness which concluded that the majority of people surveyed, 64 percent, consider that environmental protection policies are an incentive for innovation. Only 20 percent said environmental protectioin is an obstacle to economic performance.

This poll also showed that 63 percent of European Union citizens give priority to protecting the environment over economic competitiveness.

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Europeans surveyed say the environment is as important as economic issues. (Photo by Ian Britton courtesy FreeFoto)
The percentage of citizens surveyed who perceive the European Union as the best level for environmental decisionmaking increased to 33 percent over 30 percent in a similar poll taken in 2002.

National governments were seen as the best level for environmental decisionmaking by 33 percent in both surveys.

The main environmental concerns of Europeans are those that directly affect their lives.

Water pollution tops the list with 47 percent of those surveyed concerned, disasters such as oil spills and industrial accidents were next with 46 percent, climate change and air pollution both ranked at 45 percent, and chemicals were of concern to 35 percent of respondents.

Asked if they feel sufficiently informed about environmental issues, 54 percent of respondents feel well informed whereas 44 percent feel they are badly informed. The two issues where respondents feel the greatest lack of information is the health impact of chemicals - 41 percent - and genetically modified organisms - 40 percent.

When it comes to sources of environmental information, citizens most trust environmental associations - 42 percent vs. 48 percent in 2002, followed by scientists - 32 percent versus 35 percent in 2002, and television - 27 percent vs. 18 percent in 2002. Compared with the last survey in 2002, confidence in media has increased significantly.

A vast majority of Europeans – 85 percent – feel they already make an effort to care for their own environment. But over half this majority (57%) also believes that, to achieve results, industry, corporations and other individuals must also play their part.

When asked exactly what action they are prepared to take themselves, by far the largest number of people - 72 percent - chose sorting and recycling waste, followed by 39 percent of respondents who are ready to cut their household energy consumption.