Press releases

Public prioritise climate not trade in government China relations, poll finds

China container ship - Port of Rotterdam
China container ship in Port of Rotterdam. Photo by Frans Berkelaar on Flickr.
  1. Climate change should be prioritised over trade in government policy towards China, a survey of six European countries has found.
  2. The public placed climate change an important foreign policy priority towards China, alongside promoting human rights and working on a global response to COVID-19. This held true even in countries with predominantly negative views on China.
  3. The public from six countries think it’s important that China takes additional actions to meets its carbon emissions target.
  4. Think tank E3G worked with pollsters YouGov to survey the public of Denmark, France, Germany, Poland, Italy, and the United Kingdom in April 2021.


Despite predominantly negative views of China in Denmark, France, Germany and the UK, the public feels that climate change should be a high priority for their country’s engagement with China. When asked about their country’s foreign policy towards China, a greater proportion rated climate change as being a very or fairly high priority than any other issue, such as trade, in France and Italy (72% and 84%, respectively). Climate change had the second highest proportion of respondents rate it as being a very or fairly high priority compared to other issues in Germany, Denmark and Poland.

The public has a strong preference for prioritising human rights and democracy as well as climate change in the country’s foreign policy towards China. In contrast, forging new trade agreements with China is the issue that respondents felt should be of lower priority, receiving the least positive responses in four of the six countries (41% said it should be a very high or fairly high priority in France, 64% in Italy, 61% in the UK and 67% in Poland)

The public expressed their reservations at China’s net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target. With the exception of Italy, a majority (at least 53%) are not confident that the Chinese government will be able to meet its target.

To achieve its targets, a large majority of the public believe that it is important for China to stop building new coal power plants at home (74% to 88% of responses) and stop financing coal power plants overseas (70% to 83% of responses).

The public also think that for China to fulfil its climate goal, it is important it stop deforestation in its supply chain overseas (69% to 88% of responses).

Read the key takeaways from the EU-CN polling here.


Nick Mabey, Chief Executive of E3G said:

This polling provides clear evidence that despite the emerging tensions between the EU and China, most Europeans believe that climate should be one of the top priorities in their country’s foreign policy agenda towards China, alongside with concerns over human rights and developing a global COVID-19 response.

Byford Tsang, Senior Policy Advisor of E3G said:

While the European public thinks climate diplomacy with China is important, they also expect China to deliver more to fulfil its ambitious climate goals. The European Union, Member States and the UK government should continue engagement with China on implementing short term climate action, including a moratorium on the construction of coal power plants at home and overseas.

Jennifer Tollmann, Senior Policy Advisor of E3G said:

The polling shows the challenge for governments to balance trade, economic, human rights and climate agenda in their relations with China. But what’s clear is that significantly more Europeans give top priority to climate than to trade when it comes to their governments’ relations with China.

Available for comment

Byford Tsang is available for commentary – please contact them directly:

Notes to Editors

  1. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size across six countries was 8,955 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 31 March – 9 April 2021. The surveys were carried out online. The figures for each country (Denmark, France, Germany, Poland, Italy, and the United Kingdom) have been weighted and are representative of all adults in the respective country (aged 18+). The full data tables of the poll can be found here.
  2. The polling results align with outcomes of similar polling done in the US last December, which indicated that a majority of Americans showed support towards working with China to address climate change and reduce emissions.
  3. E3G is an independent climate change think tank accelerating the transition to a climate safe world. E3G specialises in climate diplomacy, climate risk, energy policy and climate finance.


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