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Authors: Claudia Strambo, Mahboubeh Rahmati-Abkenar, Saša Solujić, Laura Del Duca
Environmental attitudes, defined as, “the collection of beliefs, affect, and behavioural intentions a person holds regarding environmentally related activities or issues,” play a crucial role in determining public support and demand for environmental policies. As Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) finalizes its new environmental strategy and action plan, we explore the environmental attitudes its citizens, and consider ways to increase environmental awareness going forward.
To gauge environmental attitudes in BiH, we examine indicators such as the level of concern people have about critical environmental issues like climate change and pollution, and how these issues compare in priority to the economy. We also look at indicators of environmentally-friendly behaviour, such as volunteering for environmental organisations. Our analysis is based on the most recent data from the European Values Survey (2017) and the Balkan Barometer (collected between 2016 and 2022).
Environmental attitudes in BiH
The 2022 Balkan Barometer data reveals a rise in concern for climate change and pollution compared to 2016 and 2019, with approximately two-thirds of respondents considering these issues very or somewhat serious problems in the previous year. However, concern for climate change and pollution has diminished since 2020 in both BiH and the Western Balkan region, likely due to the global pandemic, economic downturn and potentially the War in Ukraine.
As illustrated in the figure below, although concerns about climate change and pollution increased in BiH in 2022 compared to 2016 and 2019, they declined compared to 2020 and 2021. This reduction is evident in BiH and the broader Western Balkan region.
The Balkan Barometer also indicates that between 2018 and 2021, individuals in BiH increased their environmentally friendly actions, such as reducing their waste and choosing greener products. However, compared to the rest of the Western Balkans region, BiH residents exhibit less environmentally friendly behaviour across all categories, except for purchasing local food.
Furthermore, in 2022, compared to 2018, fewer people in BiH supported the idea of purchasing environmentally friendly products even if they cost slightly more, while this proportion increased dramatically at the regional level. In 2022, significantly fewer inhabitants of BiH (17% vs. 27%) believe it is possible to reduce CO2 emissions and bring them close to zero, compared to 2021. In 2022, less than one-fifth of the population considered this both necessary and feasible. However, more BiH residents believed it is necessary in 2022 than in 2021, even as this decreased at the regional level.
How does BiH compare to the rest of the EU? As the figure below demonstrates, based on 2017 data, a higher percentage of BiH residents would contribute part of their income if they were certain it would be used to prevent environmental pollution than the European average (70% vs. 51%). However, economic concerns outweigh environmental ones more significantly in BiH (60% vs. 33%). A larger portion of the population believes there is no point in acting environmentally unless others do the same (48% vs. 29%), and that many claims about environmental threats are exaggerated (33% vs. 23%). Membership in environmental organisations is marginally lower than the European average (3% vs. 7%).
In summary, the data indicates that concerns about key environmental issues such as climate change and pollution have increased in BiH, and environmentally friendly behaviours have followed a similar trend. However, economic concerns take precedence, and scepticism about the feasibility of reaching climate goals seems to be growing. Additionally, one-third of the population in BiH does not trust claims about the severity of environmental threats.
How do environmental attitudes vary by gender, age, income, and education?
While the above trends reflect the overall BiH population, they differ among specific societal groups. Examining environmental attitudes, particularly from a gender, age, income, and education perspectives, may help better target environmental awareness campaigns and mobilize those groups more supportive of environmental action.
As the next figure shows, the European Value Survey indicates little difference between the attitudes of men and women towards the environment. Women in BiH tend to slightly prioritize the environment over the economy (39% vs. 33%), while men are more inclined to believe there is no point in doing anything about the environment unless others do the same (52% vs. 45%), and that many environmental threats are exaggerated (36% vs. 31%).
This distinction between men and women is also present in other geographical contexts, including India, the United States and the European Union. Women in these regions are more likely to be aware of health issues, have a heightened sense of risk, and be more concerned about and motivated to act on climate change. In contrast, men tend to be more convenience-oriented. Several hypotheses attempt to explain this difference, such as disparities in gender socialisation and resulting value systems, which affect perceptions of risk and vulnerability or commitment to egalitarian values of fairness and social justice. However, recent research shows that this difference is “far from universal”: in some cases, men demonstrate greater awareness of climate change, for instance in Ghana, Indonesia and Argentina.
Regarding generational differences, the EVS data reveals no significant connection between age and the environmental indicators we examine. Globally, evidence linking age and environmental concern is mixed. Studies have found that older individuals are more likely to engage with nature, avoid environmental harm and conserve raw materials and natural resources, including in Europe. Meanwhile, younger generations tend to care more about climate change specifically, as demonstrated in research from New Zealand, the US and the EU. Some studies also suggests a weakening trend in this relationship in high-income countries, while environmental concern among youth in middle-income countries has risen over the past two decades.
Regarding income, the EVS data reveals that, in general, agreement with prioritising the environment over the economy decreases as income increases, irrespective of gender. This trend differs from other contexts where the opposite has been observed. A possible explanation for this overall trend is that individuals with lower income are more likely to be exposed to environmental harms than those with higher income. People with lower income are also less likely to believe environmental threats are exaggerated compared to those with medium or high-level income.
In BiH, the factor that most influences environmental attitudes is education level. The EVS data indicates that both men and women with university-level education have a slightly more positive attitude towards the environment compared to those with a lower education level. Individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher are more likely to prioritize the environment over the economy and contribute part of their income for the environment, irrespective of gender. They are also more inclined to provide part of their income for the environment, particularly women. On the other hand, people with a high school diploma or lower level of education are more likely to believe there is no point in taking action for the environment unless others do the same, and that many environmental threats are exaggerated. The connection between educational attainment and pro-environmental attitudes has also been observed in other countries, such as China and Europe.
The overall positive trend regarding in BiH society’s environmental attitudes is somewhat overshadowed by growing scepticism about the feasibility and necessity of reducing CO2 emissions. This highlights the importance of high-quality information and communication that counters misinformation within society, as well as communication strategies that effectively convey the economic and health benefits and opportunities associated with environmental policy. Moreover, identifying specific groups with less pro-environmental attitudes (e.g., men and individuals with higher income or lower educational attainment) can inform more targeted strategies and messaging to reach them. This is why having more recent disaggregated data on environmental attitudes is crucial.
Public authorities, especially at the subnational level, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) play a key role in raising environmental awareness, educating the population about environmental challenges and opportunities, and encouraging citizens to adjust their behaviours. Public authorities also have a significant impact on establishing appropriate frameworks and incentives.
Going forward, the BiH Environmental Strategy and Action Plan 2030+ (BiH ESAP 2030+) being prepared in the country aims to strengthen these efforts, prioritising environmental awareness raising among the general population and businesses on several issues. Waste management, pesticide usage in agriculture and forestry, biodiversity protection, chemicals management and noise are some of the areas where urgent behavioural changes are needed. Increased awareness about these particular issues can also result in significant health benefits. To tackle these, the BiH ESAP 2030+ plans environmental awareness-raising campaigns, enhanced knowledge through targeted education and cooperation with civil sector and educational institutions, among others. Environmental education and awareness raising are also viewed as important drivers of effective participation in environmental decision-making in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
As such campaigns are implemented, it is vital to consider variations in awareness within the BiH society, since information campaigns aimed at modifying behaviour tend to work better when their messages are tailored to specific groups of people. For example, environmental education must address gender gaps in knowledge and understanding of environmental issues and responses. It is also crucial to avoid gendering environmentally friendly behaviours in information campaigns. As mentioned earlier, observed gender differences are far from universal, further emphasising that everyone in BiH bears the responsibility to protect the environment. Additionally, it is important to avoid shifting producers’ environmental responsibilities onto individual consumers.
Changes in environmental attitudes and gaining support for environmental policy would also benefit from being pursued through measures addressing economic inequalities. For instance, since the youth face particular economic hardship, emphasis could be placed on schemes supporting youth employment in sectors of the green transition, such as low-carbon transport, energy efficiency or circular economy.
Lastly, the EU leadership – or lack of thereof – will play a significant role as well. With BiH having obtained EU Candidate Status in 2022, the leadership and progress of EU countries – or lack thereof – in delivering the green transition fairly will further shape people’s attitudes towards the environment in BiH concerning what is possible, desirable and necessary.
 N.B.: Data collection for the EVS survey occurred in 2017, making it less current than the Balkan Barometer Data. Nevertheless, we utilize this data because it is available at a disaggregated level and comparable with other EU countries. Access to more recent disaggregated data on environmental attitudes in BiH would provide a more accurate representation of their current state across society.