4EU+After Paris: Climate Change Mitigation Inadequate in EU Member States

16 May 2023

Young researchers from the 4EU+ European University Alliance examine attitudes towards climate change and political action in the European Union

The last few years have seen a growing awareness of the climate change issue in the European Union, yet the member states have not sufficiently stepped up their action on climate policy since the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change. This is one of the main conclusions reached by early career researchers from the 4EU+ European University Alliance after studying the response to the agreement in the EU. While public attitudes towards climate change have changed due to the increase in climate impacts, the policies implemented at the national level remain inadequate.

The research studies were conducted in the context of the Collegio Futuro, which is based at the Heidelberg Center for the Environment (HCE), Heidelberg University’s centre for environmental research, and is an integral part of the 4EU+ university alliance’s flagship initiative “Environmental Transitions”. As part of the college, doctoral researchers from several European countries collaborate across disciplinary boundaries on central issues of sustainable development. A team of ecologists, hydrologists, physicists, psychologists, epidemiologists and political scientists has now completed a study of the impacts of climate change on public attitudes and climate policies in EU member states. Their reference point was the Paris Agreement.

In this 2015 agreement, nearly 200 states worldwide agreed to limit global warming to under two degrees Celsius with the aid of national contributions to climate change mitigation. The European Union contributes substantially to global CO2 emissions but has so far not met its climate goals at the national level, according to HCE Executive Manager Dr Maximilian Jungmann. “This being so, in Collegio Futuro we tackled the question of whether member states particularly impacted by climate change, and whose citizens vigorously debate this issue, can also show they have a more committed climate policy,” says the political scientist. To find out, the team analysed three climate indexes with data sets from 27 European countries, comparing them for climate change impacts, national climate policy and public attitudes.

The analyses for the period from 2007 to 2021 show that climate change has increasingly moved to the forefront of public attention in the EU in northern more than in southern Europe – but the member states have not stepped up their political efforts to mitigate climate change even since the Paris Agreement. In the eastern European macro region, the situation has even deteriorated. A further finding is that negative consequences of climate change, particularly rising heat stress, have led to improved climate policy action in northern Europe, but the opposite is the case in southern European member states. “What the results of our investigations clearly indicate is a decoupling of public concern and effective policies. But they are urgently necessary in order to respond to the increasing impacts of climate change,” emphasises Patricia Nayna Schwerdtle, first author on the study and a doctoral researcher at the Heidelberg Institute for Global Health, which is located at the Medical Faculty Heidelberg and at Heidelberg University Hospital.

Participating in the research studies were young researchers from the universities of Heidelberg, Sorbonne/Paris, Milan, Warsaw and Prague. Together with the universities of Copenhagen and Geneva they form the 4EU+ European University Alliance, a transnational strategic association of seven research-intensive universities funded in the framework of the Erasmus+ European Universities call. The research findings were published in the journal “Sustainability”.

Collegio Futuro members at a meeting in Milan. Back row, from left: Dr Maximilian Jungmann, Silvio Oggioni, Edwige Cavan, Lukas Pilz, Patricia Nayna Schwerdtle, Tobias Naryniecki; front row: Arianna Crosta, Filip Szarvas. Absent: Veranika Kaleyeva and Peshang Hama Karim.

Original publication

P. N. Schwerdtle, E. Cavan, L. Pilz, S. D. Oggioni, A. Crosta, V. Kaleyeva, P. H. Karim, F. Szarvas, T. Naryniecki, M. Jungmann: Interlinkages between Climate Change Impacts, Public Attitudes, and Climate Action—Exploring Trends before and after the Paris Agreement in the EU, Sustainability 15(9), 7542 (4 May 2023)