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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 July 2006, 02:12 GMT 03:12 UK
Save energy - but not at any cost
By Stephen Evans
BBC News

A flame from a tower of the Repsol refinery in Tarragona, Spain
Many polled fear energy shortages could destabilise the world economy
You don't often get polls asking the same important questions across a wide range of countries in a truly scientific way, so this one is important.

The survey, carried out for the BBC World Service, concludes that: "We're very concerned that the way energy is consumed and produced threatens the environment and threatens peace."

So far, so clear.

But then the snag. The difficulty for policy-makers is that the poll also indicates a strong view across the globe that taxes should not rise to alleviate the problem - unless it be taxes on others like car-makers.

All told, 19,579 people were polled in May and June in 19 countries - Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Chile, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Ukraine and the US.

They show a remarkable degree of agreement about concerns.

People in the US, Egypt, France, Chile, the Philippines and Brazil agree in overwhelming proportions - 70% or higher - that "energy shortages/prices will destabilise the world economy".

The sarcophagus of a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, April 2006
The Chernobyl disaster may have put some people off nuclear power

They also agree that "competition for energy will lead to greater war/conflict" and "energy production/use is harming the environment/climate".

We're worried, is the overwhelming message that citizens in a diverse range of countries are sending to politicians.

But then comes the question: "What should be done?" and the global accord breaks down.

On "building new nuclear power plants", there are differences of support across the world.

Egyptians, Kenyans, Indians and South Koreans are strongly in favour - about two to one - but Poles, Russians and Ukrainians strongly against (for obvious reasons, one surmises, given the accident in Chernobyl 20 years ago at the nuclear plant near Kiev).

Question of tax

On requiring car-makers to increase fuel efficiency, there is strong global agreement.

Apart from in the Philippines, Poland and Egypt, there is a clear majority indicated by the poll in favour of tougher standards on car exhaust pollution.

Wind turbines near the San Andreas fault, California
The poll suggests strong support for tax breaks for renewable energies

And there is overwhelming agreement on one other measure: tax incentives for renewable energy.

Big majorities in all countries favour giving tax breaks to ventures which promote wave or wind or solar power, with 86% agreeing in the US, 88% in Brazil, 85% in Poland and down to a still strong 62% in Chile.

And then the fly in the ointment: Do you favour increasing energy taxes?

The Australians come out as the most altruistic, with 69% for higher taxes, followed by the British and Kenyans with 62% and 60% respectively.

Next come the evenly-ish split Germans, Egyptians, US and Canada, all on 47% for higher taxes.

And then a mass of opposition: in Poland only 7% are for higher energy taxes, in Brazil 13% and in Russia 12%.

The upshot of this testing of opinion across the globe is a strong feeling that energy is a subject of deep concern, and that governments should do more.

But the resolve evaporates when it comes to spending more money.

Graph showing results of World Service poll on energy concerns


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