Methane pollution emerged as a major issue on the EU climate agenda in 2021. From generating headlines across the continent to the joint EU-U.S. Global Methane Pledge launch at COP26, the call to tackle methane emissions is now being endorsed by hundreds of head of state and government. With the Global Methane Pledge, more than 150 countries have publicly committed to reducing global methane emissions by 2030.
In December 2021, the Commission proposed the first ever EU wide policy aimed at tackling methane in the fossil fuel sector, an area that offers the quickest and easiest routes to reducing methane emissions. The Council released its version of a proposal to tackle methane emissions in December 2022, and Parliament continues to debate key contents of its proposal, including critical components such as frequency for leak detection and repair, inclusion of regulations on imported fossil gas, and transparency over monitoring, reporting, and verification.
The need to tackle methane is relatively new, both in Europe and in climate policy more generally. While the work done by Clean Air Task Force and others around Europe has firmly established the problem of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector as an issue European policymakers need to address, public opinion is often absent from the discourse.
Clean Air Task Force and researchers from Georgetown University and University of California Santa Barbara commissioned YouGov to conduct a representative survey of 6,251 voting-age respondents from four countries central debate over methane regulations in the European Union: France, Italy, Germany, and Poland. This is the first cross-national survey of public attitudes toward regulating methane in the energy sector.
The survey, conducted in August 2022, focused on better understanding public knowledge about the effects of methane and fossil gas on the climate and capturing attitudes towards policies targeting methane abatement in Europe, including key aspects of issues at the center of the debate. Here are the highlights:
1. Strong support for regulations across Italy, Germany, France, and Poland
At least 90% of respondents in all four countries (France, Germany, Italy, and Poland) either support or strongly support regulations to reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas industry by targeting methane leaks (90%), establishing equipment standards (91%), and applying regulatory measures to EU suppliers (90%).
Respondents in Italy and France were the strongest supporters of selected regulatory measures, with 94% in both countries supporting regulations to reduce leaks, 94% (France) and 96% (Italy) supporting equipment standards, and 92% (France) and 93% (Italy) supporting equivalent rules for export countries.
2. High support for regulating methane imports, including a methane fee on higher emitters
As discussed above, the survey found high support for extending EU rules to regulate methane pollution to supplier countries, with 90% of respondents across the four countries providing ‘strongly support’ or ‘support’ for an extension of EU rules. This high support was in agreement across respondents from all four countries, with the highest support in Italy (93%), followed by France (92%), then Poland (90%), and finally Germany (86%).
Interestingly, public support for regulations on gas exporting countries remained high following the introduction of a methane fee on exporting countries. We found that support for a methane fee on high emitting suppliers held despite the potential for increased costs. To test this question, we randomly assigned three prompts to our respondents for each country, such that one-third of respondents from each country received one of three questions. The first prompt simply asked respondents whether they supported a methane fee. The second prompt asked respondents if that supported a fee, even if it meant a small increase in the cost of energy to you. And the third prompt suggested that a fee might increase costs, but a fund would be created to support low-income households.
We found that 72% of respondents who were asked about a methane fee, either supported or strongly supported this mechanism to reduce methane pollution in the oil and gas industry of supplier nations. Support for a methane fee dropped slightly to 67% of respondents when we suggested the fee might increase costs to individuals. However, support for the fee went back up to 71% when we said the funds from the fee would be used to support low-income households.
3. Limited knowledge of methane impacts on climate
Only 42% of respondents across all countries recognized that methane makes up the largest percent of natural gas. French respondents (26%) were least likely to recognize the main component of natural gas. Further, less than 20% of respondents across all countries correctly identified that methane makes up more than 80% of natural/fossil gas.
According to observations from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, methane concentrations are rising at a faster rate now than at anytime in our history. A majority of respondents (68%) across all countries correctly answered a question about the direction of atmospheric concentrations. Polish respondents (71%) were more aware of the increasing atmospheric concentration of methane than respondents from other countries in the survey.
A majority of respondents (62%) across all countries acknowledge that methane is a major problem for the climate, when asked how much of a problem methane pollution is for the climate. Younger respondents in Italy (69%), and older respondents in Germany (68%) and Poland (73%) were more likely to say that methane is a major problem for the climate.
4. Varied word associations of natural/fossil gas
Terminology and word choice to describing natural gas, methane, fossil gas, and fracked gas is loaded with historical connotations and industry-led campaigns to conjure images. Other groups have conducted experiments in the United States to understand how word choice affects attitudes and opinions towards fossil gas as a fuel source. To date, similar research has not been conducted in Europe and we wanted to explore how world choice might affect people’s associations in different countries.
We tested the respondents’ associations with the terms ‘natural gas’ and ‘methane’ by randomly assigning two conditions to a question in our survey. We asked respondents ‘Which of the following phrases do you most associate with (‘Natural Gas’/’Methane’)? Select two.’ We provided a list of 10 responses to choose from that included. A plurality of respondents (36%) associated ’methane’ with ‘greenhouse gas’ and ‘cows and other animals’, most respondents (62%) associate ‘natural gas’ with heating and cooking, but important distinctions exist across countries, especially in Italy.
In Italy, the terms for methane and natural gas are synonymous and do not have historical associations. While respondents from Germany, France, and Poland were most likely to associate ‘natural gas’ with ‘heating and cooking’, like respondents in Italy, respondents from those countries were more likely to associate ‘methane’ with ‘greenhouse gas’ and ‘cows and other animals.’ Importantly, Italian respondents therefore were most likely to associate ‘methane’ with ‘heating and cooking,’ while only 15% of Italian respondents associated ‘methane’ with ‘Greenhouse gas.’
To read through the full results of our survey, click the link below.
Methodology: The survey was conducted online using YouGov’s proprietary panels. Survey questions were translated by YouGov, and CATF conducted quality control of all translations using native language speakers for each language. When direct translations of text were not available in the target language, translators used best available word choices to convey the same meaning. Unless otherwise stated, sample size for each country: France (1,545), Germany (1,546), Italy (1,583), and Poland (1,577).