When the people lead

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Last month's agreement on binding targets for 20% of Europe's energy to come from renewables by 2020 signalled a dramatic U-turn by political leaders. Most governments have consistently opposed efforts by the European Commission to mandate the use of green power. A factor that may have helped changed their minds was the release of two public opinion polls early this year showing overwhelming support for renewables across 25 EU member states.

In a Eurobarometer poll of attitudes to EU energy policy by the Gallup organisation, 83% favoured the EU setting a target for the percentage of energy from renewables in member states. Support was highest in Ireland with 94% in favour, and lowest in the three Baltic states and Bulgaria, where just over 50% agreed. Just 12% were opposed. On nuclear's share of energy supply, 61% believed it should be decreased, while 30% were in favour of more nuclear energy. On competition in energy supply, 85% wanted a choice of electricity and gas supplier. The survey results were released by the Commission in the days leading up to the European Council vote on the proposed target.

An earlier Eurobarometer survey published in January revealed that renewable energy technologies are far more popular among EU citizens than fossil fuels or nuclear. Of all the renewables, solar scored most highly with an EU average of 80% in favour. Wind ranked second at 71%. The highest approval rate for wind (93%) was recorded in Denmark -- where more wind turbines are installed per head of population than anywhere else -- and the lowest (63%) in Italy and the UK.

Opposition to wind power was negligible at an EU average of 4%; the highest proportion of those against was a mere 7% in Germany. By contrast, gas, oil and coal received approval rates of only 42%, 27% and 26%, respectively, with far greater proportions of Europeans holding "balanced views" according to the survey. Nuclear came bottom in the energy popularity stakes with just 20% in favour and 37% opposed.

Despite the positive attitude towards clean energy shown by most Europeans, energy as a topic was placed far down their list of the most important issues facing their countries. At an EU average of 14%, energy ranked way behind unemployment (64%), crime (36%) and healthcare (33%).

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