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Climate change: a challenge and a priority for CEE but not for its citizens

The European Parliament and Commission have released a joint Special Eurobarometer on the Future of Europe. As 2022, the designated European Year of Youth has just begun, it is seen as very positive the attitude of young Europeans, with 9 out of 10 of them agreeing that tackling climate change can help improve their own health and well-being.

Overall, almost every second European (49 per cent) sees climate change as the main global challenge for the future of the EU, with overwhelming support for the environmental objectives of the European Green Deal. However, this statement is not entirely true in Central and Eastern Europe. In fact, in these countries, environmental issues and climate change do not feature among the most important challenges of our time and therefore they shouldn’t be addressed as priorities, compared to other challenges like the healthcare system, migration-related issues and the growing unemployment rate.

Just to give some numbers, only 15 per cent of Bulgarians perceive climate change as a challenge, with very similar percentages in other countries of the region (14 per cent in Latvia, 16 per cent in Greece, 18 per cent in Romania).

Regarding concrete measures, overall, Europeans think that various environmental objectives are important to them personally. Above all, more than half (58 per cent) say that restoring Europe’s forests, soils, wetlands and peatlands to increase the absorption of CO2 pollution is very important, especially in Greece (97 per cent).

Indeed, Greece was the first country from Central and Eastern Europe whose recovery and resilience plan received a positive assessment by the European Commission. The plan met the 37 per cent climate expenditure target with specific measures to support a national reforestation programme.

On the contrary, respondents who are least likely to say this objective is important to them personally are almost all coming from the CEE region: Romania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland. The Baltics are also among those that consider important neither a higher penetration of RES nor to make Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050.

Slovenia leads the way when it comes to consent around the increase in the share of renewable energy and the renovation of buildings to be more energy-efficient. For other countries, this is not as important as other issues, especially in Romania, Latvia and Poland, which actually confirm a statement made last April by Julian Popov, CEO of the Building Performance Institute Europe and former Minister of Environment of Bulgaria who said that Central and Eastern Europe was lacking ambition. Surely, it is also a question of inheritance, as CEE countries inherited a very bad building stock and there is a lot to do to catch up with Western countries. During an online event organised by GLOBSEC, Mr Popov mentioned Bulgaria and Romania as the countries with the worst building stock. Interesting enough, for citizens of these countries buildings’ renovation is not a priority.

Finally, 39 per cent of the respondents said that it is very important to promote the growth of the zero- and low- emissions vehicles market in order to cut transport emissions, especially in two already-mentioned countries: Greece and Slovenia.

Although there is wide agreement that tackling climate change can bring a range of benefits, including the improvement of health and well-being, the creation of new opportunities for innovation, investment and jobs, there is less of a consensus regarding the impact on the economy. In 17 EU Member States, a majority of respondents agree that tackling climate change can harm our economy, especially in Hungary (61 per cent), Slovakia (59 per cent) and Romania (58 per cent).

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