French worry more about climate change than neighbors do

The French are more worried and outraged by climate change than their British or German neighbors, but they don’t want to pay for a solution.

That’s the conclusion of the first in-depth, large-scale survey into European attitudes on global warming. In France, 79 percent of people are worried by climate change, compared with 60 percent in the U.K. and 68 percent in Germany, according to the European Perceptions on Climate Change study published on Wednesday.

The findings leave a puzzle for the candidates vying for the support of voters who go to the polls next month in on of the most closely-watched elections in France’s history. The current government promised to cut the nation’s reliance on nuclear reactors, a pledge backed by presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron. His rival Marine Le Pen wants to “massively” develop renewables except for wind energy, for which she seeks an immediate moratorium.

On Wednesday Le Pen said nuclear power is essential for France and the Fessenheim power plant shouldn’t be closed. She also defended tax advantages for diesel cars, saying eliminating them would be a “betrayal” of French people with modest incomes.

“There’s some contradiction in the French people as it relates to climate policies that might be difficult for the new government to face,” Marc Poumadere, a co-author of the report from Institut Symlog, said by phone. “These will be difficult issues. The trick will be to manage the wish of the French people to have better climate policy.”

More than any other nation polled, French people say they are prepared to personally reduce their energy use to help the environment, according to the researchers at Cardiff University in Wales, the University of Stuttgart in Germany, Institut Symlog in France, and the University of Bergen and the Rokkan Centre for Social Studies in Norway.

Yet 74 percent oppose rising power prices to curb demand and 54 percent oppose increasing taxes on fossil fuels. The government last year dropped plans to introduce a carbon tax.

Nuclear Reliance

Weaning the country of nuclear energy may be a popular move. Currently, about three-quarters of France’s electricity comes from nuclear plants, and the government wants to reduce that to half. Less than a quarter of French people interviewed backed nuclear compared with 40 percent in the U.K. Across the four countries surveyed, wind and solar had the support of 70 percent of the population or more.

Across all four nations, more than 80 percent of people believed the world’s climate is changing and a similar proportion say it’s at least partly caused by human activity. Six in 10 say we’re already feeling the impacts of climate change.

France’s additional concern around the issue may be linked to a catastrophic heatwave in 2003, and more recently Paris’s successful hosting of the United Nations climate change talks that resulted in a global deal to limit warming to below two degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels.

That may also explain why French respondents were more confident than those in the U.K., Germany and Norway, of their ability to make a difference when it comes to climate change, said Claire Mays, another co-author from Symlog, in an interview.

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