The next several months will be crucial for environmental policy in the European Union. The European Parliament could pass a new climate law that would make the bloc’s current goal of becoming climate-neutral by 2050 legally-binding, while the European Commission is also considering whether to amend the EU’s 2030 climate goals. In this context, Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ latest polling in France, Italy, and Spain assessed the attitudes of the public in those three countries towards the environment and climate change.
We found that slightly smaller portions of French, Italian, and Spanish respondents agree that climate change is a direct threat to their country than they did in our research in June, yet a large majority of the public continue to believe that climate change directly threatens their country. At this stage, 64% of French respondents, 68% of Italian respondents, and 69% of Spanish respondents agree that climate change is a direct threat to their country.
Our August findings, however, are consistent with our recent research in Great Britain, when 63% of the British public agreed that climate change is a threat to the country. Throughout France, Italy, and Spain, only a small minority (8-11%) disagree that climate change directly threatens their nation.
During the second quarter of 2020, France, Italy, and Spain entered into a double-digit recession. Despite the clear economic pressures faced in these nations, a strong majority (61-70%) in all three countries agree that protecting the environment should be given priority, even if it is detrimental to the economy.
Although there were small increases in all three countries, results in August broadly mirror those found in June, when 60% of Spaniards and French and 67% of Italians agreed that protecting the environment should be given priority.
Moreover, last month we found that a clear majority of respondents in France (54%), Italy (51%) and Spain (54%) agreed that financial assistance granted to businesses that suffered during the coronavirus pandemic should be conditional on changes in the environmental policies of such businesses.
Although Spanish, Italian, and French citizens are strongly in favour of protecting the environment, respondents do not appear to have a strong opinion about the environmental platform of their country’s government. In Spain (39%), Italy (46%), and France (37%), a plurality neither approve nor disapprove of their government’s environmental platform, indicating a combination of ambiguity and unfamiliarity.
Compared to June, respondents in all three countries are less approving of the environmental platform of their government, although Spaniards remain more approving (36%) than their Italian (27%) and French (28%) counterparts. Spain’s left-leaning coalition has recently put forward a bill including measures to make firms report their exposure to climate risks. The bill would also end new oil exploration permits. Our findings may thus indicate a degree of public support for these policies.
In August, a greater proportion of respondents (50-52%) disagree that climate change risks are overstated compared to two months ago (40-50%), while just 25-29% agree. Between 17-21% of respondents neither agree nor disagree that climate change risks are overstated.
Lastly, turning to personal habits, an overwhelming majority (65-70%) of French, Italian, and Spanish respondents say they have adopted behaviours to combat climate change. Only around a fifth (19-20%) say they have not adopted any behaviours aimed at combating climate change.
Of those who claim to have adopted behaviours to combat climate change, an overwhelming majority of this subgroup in Italy (90%) and Spain (92%) say they recycle. A further 72% the subgroup in Italy and 82% in Spain take a reusable bag with them when going grocery shopping.
Ultimately, the French, Spanish and Italian public agree that climate change poses a direct threat to their country. Significantly, respondents across all three countries would favour policies which protect the environment, even if they are detrimental to the economy. A majority of respondents disagree that the risks of climate change have been overstated, yet many do not have a strong opinion regarding the environmental policies of their country’s government. As the European Union focuses its coronavirus recovery fund on a green transition, Redfield & Wilton Strategies will continue to monitor European attitudes towards environmental policy and climate change.
 Due to a technical issue during the polling process, we were unable to ask French respondents what personal habits they adopt to combat climate change.