Insights from the Common Futures Conversations Survey

Chatham House
Jul 29 · 5 min read
Students demonstrate outside the Panthéon against climate change on March 15, 2019 in Paris, France. Photo by Kiran Ridley/Getty Images.

The Common Futures Conversations survey asked 3,487 young people from 13 countries across Africa and Europe to consider a list of political issues, and then prioritize them, including which issue most affects their own country and which most affects the world. When comparing global with national concerns, the survey data shows their answers were significantly different.

When answering from the perspective of their own country the rankings looked like this. (Fig. 1)

However, when asked to select the issues most affecting the world, climate change became by far the most commonly chosen. (Fig. 3)

We asked four of the young people involved in helping develop the survey for their views on why there was such a difference between the global and national priorities of respondents particularly in the case of climate change. Read the responses below which have been edited for clarity.

Oyindamola Adegboye — Nigeria

In Nigeria, climate change is not considered a priority because there are other short-term issues that are more pressing to people. Climate change is seen as a long-term issue that can, and should only be solved, when more pressing concerns are addressed.

It’s only normal to expect that people will not focus on climate change when they’re trying to figure out how they will be able to eat the next day. For Nigerians, human capital development and unemployment are much more visible, and therefore important, issues in their everyday life. Until these needs are satisfied, climate change is at the back of people’s minds.

In Nigeria, there is also a perception that Europeans were the ones that brought this problem about in the first place with industrialization. Many African countries are still developing and now, suddenly, Europeans are pushing for countries to significantly reduce their usage of fossil fuels.

Fuel alternatives, like solar power, are considered a luxury and only something that rich countries and individuals can afford to buy into. In Nigeria, we don’t even have a reliable power supply. Many people use generators to supply power in their shops, companies and homes. Therefore, demanding such a switch is incomprehensible and unfair to many people.

Charlotte Carnehl — Germany

Climate change has been at the top of the political agenda in Germany and Europe in the past year. This was evident in the recent EU elections, where candidates focused a lot on sustainability, climate change and critical consumerism.

Alongside the political focus on climate change, there has been an increase in media awareness around the issue, and therefore public awareness. The increase in public awareness is visible across all sectors of society in Germany but especially among young people who have become champions of the issue.

For example, the ‘Fridays for the Future’ movement, inspired by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, has been adopted by students in various schools across the country. Therefore, I was not surprised that climate change was chosen as the most important issue facing the world in 2019 because the survey respondents fell into this ‘younger’ demographic who are already focused on climate change issues.

Young people are also the demographic that are engaging with the media on this issue, sharing information on social media and starting viral campaigns like the ‘Fridays for the Future’ movement.

Ida Laustsen — Norway

I think in Norway, climate change is thought of as the most important issue facing both the country and world in 2019 because its effects are so visible to Norwegians. The impact on our seasons in Norway have been quite profound. In recent years summer has become much hotter and in winter the amount of snowfall has decreased substantially.

That said, I can understand why climate change could be an elitist issue. When looking at the survey results, I think it’s important to remember most of the Norwegian respondents live in Oslo, have pursued higher education and have stable incomes. I think if we were able to reach more Norwegians in suburban areas or from different socio-economic backgrounds, they would have a different perspective and prioritize other issues over climate change.

Climate change would be considered something that the cultural elite in the capital are discussing and an issue that doesn’t concern everybody else who would rather discuss issues they face in their daily life like taxes or pensions.

Mondher Tounsi — Tunisia

I spoke with some of the Tunisian respondents to understand why climate change was selected by the majority of the survey’s respondents as the most important issue facing the country in 2019 because I found the results surprising.

Interestingly, most people said that they chose climate change as the most important issue, not because the issue is of paramount concern, but because it offered the best rationale for global coordinated action as it affects all countries.

Climate change was thought of as a transnational issue, not a domestic issue, which could be a reason why support for climate changed polled so differently in these two questions. This was interesting to hear because in my experience a lot of people in Tunisia view climate change as an elitist problem.

We live in a country experiencing rapid political development, so people tend to focus on short-term or more immediate problems in their daily lives, like poverty, unemployment or corruption. Issues such as climate change are regarded as more long-term concerns to regular citizens who are in dire need of economic development and social welfare.

This is the second of six blog posts exploring some of the insights from the 2019 Common Futures Conversations Youth Survey.

Read the introduction to the blog series here or download the full survey results here.

The Common Futures Conversations project is developing an online platform to facilitate dialogue between young people and policymakers in Africa and Europe. For more information, please visit the website.

Common Futures Conversations is a collaboration between Chatham House and Robert Bosch Stiftung.

Chatham House

The Royal Institute of International Affairs. An independent policy institute with a mission to help build a sustainably secure, prosperous and just world.

Chatham House

Written by

The Royal Institute of International Affairs. An independent policy institute with a mission to help build a sustainably secure, prosperous and just world.

Chatham House

The Royal Institute of International Affairs. An independent policy institute with a mission to help build a sustainably secure, prosperous and just world.

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