The European Commission’s Environment Directorate-General (DG Environment) commissioned CEP to lead a team of partners in researching and reporting on the public perceptions of environmental risks in Europe. CEP worked with partners at the University of A Coruña (Spain), the University of LatviaOikos (Slovenia), Sapienza University of Rome (Italy) and the West University of Timisoara(Romania).

This ambitious, Europe-wide project aimed to understand the differences between public perception and scientific assessment of environmental risks and the main factors influencing the evolution of public perceptions in Europe. The project used a mixed methodology research approach, including a survey of experts and focus groups with members of the public who were asked to assess and rank a selection of 14 environmental risks included in the Eurobarometer survey. [1]

The project ran from 2014 to 2015 and engaged with more than 100 experts across 28 EU Member States and over 100 members of the public in 12 focus group discussions that took place in six member states. The comparison of the assessment and ranking of environmental risks by type of respondent provides interesting insights for further research.

Overall, the environmental risks seen as being of highest concern by members of the public were similar to the top risks identified by experts. However, consumption habits and waste yielded very different responses between experts and the public.

Factors that were found to influence lay perceptions of risk included individual identity and background, collective cultural, institutional and socio-political systems, social values and degree of trust in authorities. A number of qualitative characteristics of environmental risks, such as scale, severity, proximity and personal control, were also found to influence lay assessments of environmental risks. Discussions in the focus groups showed that many people were using multiple sources of information to develop their understanding of what are often complex environmental issues.

The full report can be downloaded here.

[1] Special Eurobarometer 416: Attitudes of European citizens towards the environment (European Union, 2014)

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