Most Europeans plan to curb flying and eat less meat for climate, EU poll says

Most people said that flying would be the easiest thing to give up for climate, creating another stumbling block for the industry [Dominic Wunderlich / Pixabay]

A majority of European citizens intend to fly less and already eat less meat to help fight climate change, according to a survey published by the European Investment Bank (EIB) on Monday (11 January).

Out of 27,700 survey respondents in the EU’s 27 countries, 74% said they intended to fly less frequently for environmental reasons once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. 43% said they would do this “all the time” and 31% said they would “from time to time”.

Most respondents said flying would be the easiest thing to give up. Meanwhile, 39% of Europeans and 38% of Americans said giving up their car would be the most difficult option. This was particularly the case in rural areas.

The poll, conducted in October-November 2020, also found that 75% of Americans, 71% of Chinese people and 67% of Europeans were less likely to use public transport because of worries about COVID-19.

67% of Europeans avoiding public transport because they are worried about their health

Europe’s aviation sector is under scrutiny from customers and regulators over its carbon footprint, at the same time as airlines battle a slump in demand due to the pandemic.

Asked if they planned to choose trains over planes for short-haul trips, 71% of respondents in the EIB survey said yes.

A majority of citizens are more concerned about catching COVID-19 than about the long-term impact of climate change – 58% EU average

Although most people said they were more worried about COVID-19 than climate change, 72% of Europeans and Americans and 84% of Chinese people said they believed their choices and actions could contribute to fighting climate change.

For instance, 66% of Europeans said they already eat less meat to fight climate change and a further 13% said they planned to do so soon.

“Citizens feel the impacts of climate change and they want the climate crisis to be addressed with unprecedented action,” said EIB Vice President, Ambroise Fayolle.

Younger American and European respondents were considerably more likely to believe their actions could make a difference in tackling climate change, with 77% of 15-29-year-olds believing their behaviours could make a difference compared to 64% of respondents aged 65 or older.

A majority of Europeans believe that their own behaviour can make a difference in tackling climate change

COVID-19 lockdowns sent global CO2 emissions dropping by 7% in 2020 but it still ranked as the joint-hottest year on record, underscoring the need for faster action to slash emissions and avoid catastrophic future warming.

The EU is drafting a major package of new policies to curb pollution, due to be published in June, forcing carmakers to meet tougher emissions standards and levying higher carbon costs on factories.

Brussels also aims to help consumers make sustainable choices. The EU aims to have 3 million public electric car charging points by 2030 while a ban on single-use plastic straws and cutlery takes effect this year.

“The post COVID-19 period will provide an opportunity to take a quantum leap in the fight against climate change. A green recovery could help us accelerate the significant cut in greenhouse gas emissions that is needed by 2030,” Fayolle said.

The EIB, the EU’s lending arm, could help people adopt environmentally-friendly habits by financing clean energy and low-carbon transport, he added.

2021: Another decisive year for Europe’s climate ambitions

Climate policy will again take centre stage in 2021, with the European Commission expected to table a mammoth package of green laws in June, before the COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow caps off a year packed with milestones for European climate policy in December.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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