LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Climate change is not a driving force behind migration today – but it could be in the future, residents in four European countries believe.
A survey of 4,000 residents of Britain, Germany, France and Norway found that most believe climate change is not a major reason for mass migration today – but about 40 percent think it will lead to an increase of migrants in the future, according to results released Wednesday.
The study, coordinated by Cardiff University in Britain, collaborated with institutions in Germany, France and Norway to examine perceptions of climate change in the four countries as they relate to science, public policy, renewable energy and migration.
This survey is one of the first looks at public beliefs about climate change as a potential catalyst for migration, said Nick Pidgeon, a Cardiff professor and the lead investigator.
While separating out the role of climate change among a range of drivers for migration is difficult, migrant flows in Europe in recent years have spurred growing conversation in news media on the issue, he said.
The problem is “it’s almost impossible to show that, impossible to prove that” climate change is an important contributor to migration, Pidgeon said at a panel event to discuss the findings.
A majority of people surveyed in all four countries — ranging from 54 percent in Germany to 70 percent in France — disagreed that climate change is causing migration.
Slightly more people, however, tended to believe their country may see more climate-linked migration later, including 57 percent of respondents in Norway.
“That’s not entirely out of line with the expert projections,” Pidgeon said. Researchers “are saying at some time in the future there may be more migration across the world”.
In one of the main findings of the survey, the vast majority of respondents in all four countries said they believe the climate is changing and humans are at least partly responsible. About 60 percent in each country said that their country is already feeling the effects of climate change.
However, only about one third of respondents in each country knew that the vast majority of scientists agree that human activity – from burning fossil fuels to clearing forests – is the major cause of climate change.
Norway and France tended to be more aware of climate change and its causes than the other countries. They were also more optimistic about their country’s ability to deal with climate change, the study found.
“France and Norway both came out as being very high on saying, ‘Yes, France can make a difference’, or ‘Norway can make a difference,’” said Claire Mays, a researcher from the Institut Symlog in France. “I think that’s something we’d like to dig into in the future, to know exactly what would be the mechanisms there.”
Europeans generally support a range of policy options aimed at mitigating climate change, the study found. Increasing sources of renewable energy and giving public subsidies for home insulation, for example, were popular among those surveyed in all four countries.
Most surveyed also endorsed giving public money to help developing countries deal with and adapt to extreme weather.
“Adaptation has been less studied in terms of public perception over the years,” Pidgeon said. “So I think that’s an important message coming out of that — that there is support for what governments are doing already.”
The Paris Agreement on climate change got wide approval from respondents. About two-thirds supported their country being part of the 2015 convention.
Most believed there should even be “high economic penalties” for countries that refuse to be a part of the agreement, which aims to hold global temperature increases well below 2 degrees Celsius through the cooperation of almost 200 nations.
“If you were an international climate negotiator,” Pidgeon added, “you’d be quite happy with this.”
Reporting by J.D. Capelouto; editing by Laurie Goering :; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate