Public opinion on climate action

| 31st October 2019
Climate policies could determine next election as public demands action to tackle “greatest challenge facing humankind”.

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Climate change is likely to play a key role in determining the next government with a majority of Britons saying that it will influence the way they vote. 

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in recent weeks to call for action to avoid climate catastrophe, and a survey for environmental lawyers ClientEarth has confirmed that concern is prevalent among the wider public.

Seven in ten people believe that the climate emergency demands more urgent action and almost as many (63 percent) say it is now the biggest issue facing humankind.

Climate snapshot

A majority of all adults (54 percent) say that climate change will influence the way they vote at the next general election, but nearly two-thirds (63 percent) say politicians are not talking enough about it. Young people under 25 feel even more strongly with 74 percent and 72 percent agreeing respectively.

Opinium surveyed more than 2,000 people to take the temperature of the nation for ClientEarth’s Climate Snapshot 2019. It found that most (58 percent) believe that the UK government has done too little to prepare for the impacts of climate change and reveals widespread support for policies championed by opposition parties. Britons want the government to: 

  • Bring forward the 2050 deadline for reducing UK emissions to net zero (61 percent);
  • Do more to encourage a shift to electric and other low-emission vehicles (61 percent);
  • Introduce a ‘Green New Deal’ or ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ with large-scale, long-term investment in green jobs and infrastructure (63 percent); and,
  • Plant more trees or reforest land (64 percent).

 

Demanding action

The public wants more action from local government, too. They say councils’ top priorities should be to plant more trees, set carbon reduction targets aligned with all planning decisions, and enforce energy efficiency standards for rental properties.

Those surveyed also want councils to invest more in footpaths and bike lanes and prioritise public transport improvements over building new roads. 

ClientEarth lawyer Jonathan Church said: “From the student strikes to Extinction Rebellion, people across the UK are demanding greater action to address the climate crisis. Importantly these demands appear strong enough to make a difference at the next election, with more than half of adults saying that climate change will impact how they cast their vote.

“It’s clear the public want to see more from the UK government: more ambition to achieve the goal of zero net emissions and more concrete action to stop current carbon reduction targets from going unmet.

“The public also wants more action locally – investment in cleaner transport and more energy efficient homes – and they want councils to fulfil their legal obligation to make carbon reduction central in local planning decisions to truly green their communities.”

Accountability 

The poll also reveals widespread support for radical action to ensure that the government, banks, and businesses actively support the Paris Agreement to keep global temperature rise well below 2 degrees and to pursue a 1.5 degree target.

Three in five under-25s  and nearly half of all adults would support taking the government to court “if it looks like the UK is breaking its Paris Agreement pledges to reduce its emissions as quickly as possible.” Only 26 percent of all adults disagree.

Nearly half of all adults would support rules requiring all companies traded on the London Stock Exchange to have business plans that are compatible with the Paris Agreement or face delisting, a policy backed by Labour. Only 20 percent of all adults disagree.

Three in five under-25s believe that financial institutions and banks should no longer invest in fossil fuels and that they should be legally accountable if they choose to do so. A majority of all adults believes the same (59 percent and 60 percent) with only one in five disagreeing (20 percent and 18 percent).

Low-carbon transition

Two in three people expect investment funds held by major institutions and local authority pension funds to positively support the transition to a sustainable economy, and to consider the climate change impacts of companies they invest in.

A majority believes that investing in fossil fuel companies could be risky if their long-term strategies are not aligned with the Paris Agreement.

People expect their own pensions and investments to avoid these (55 percent) and would consider moving to another provider if their current fund was significantly exposed to coal, oil, and gas (52 percent).

Nearly two thirds of the public also believe that fossil fuel companies, whose products contribute directly to climate change, should help pay for the tens of billions of pounds of damages caused by extreme weather events.

Climate impacts 

Britons see the impact of climate change all around them. They believe the UK is already experiencing it in air pollution, extreme weather, flooding, species extinction, coastal erosion, and heat waves.

Beyond this, 59 percent say climate change is causing political instability in the UK, 46 percent believe it is increasing regional conflict and national security risks, including increased immigration, and 32 percent think it is affecting food and water supplies, for example through shortages and price rises.

The survey found that nearly three quarters of the public believe people are becoming much more fearful and anxious about climate change. Many say they have been personally affected by changing weather patterns, and by extreme weather events.

Large numbers have already taken action in response to climate change, making their home more energy efficient (48 percent), replacing appliances with more energy efficient models (30%), and installing smart metering (30 percent).

However, government support could generate much more action. If incentives were available more than half would like to install solar panels and home batteries, and almost half would switch to an electric or low-carbon vehicle.

This Article 

This article is based on a press release from ClientEarth. 

Image: Alex Lee, Wikipedia

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