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What do Brits think about climate change?
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Blog...What do Brits think about climate change?

What do Brits think about climate change?

Ecology News
Global Warming
Westminster
In this article, we explore how Brits perceive and respond to climate change against the backdrop of shifting national policies.
Ecology News
2023-12-08T00:00:00.000Z
en-us
Westminster

In a time of significant environmental challenges, the United Kingdom finds itself at a crucial point regarding its climate change policies and actions. This article seeks to explore the thoughts and opinions of Brits on climate change, amidst a backdrop of evolving national policies and global environmental concerns. We investigate how these changes, and the broader context of climate action, resonate with the British public.

👉 In this article, we explore how Brits perceive and respond to climate change against the backdrop of shifting national policies.

How does climate change impact the UK?

Climate change is often cited as being the biggest challenge of our time. Human activities have disrupted the Earth’s carbon cycle resulting in significant and rapid change to the climate. From rising global temperatures to more frequent and severe weather events, there’s not a corner of the planet that isn’t impacted in some shape or form. 

The United Kingdom is no different - it too is beginning to feel the effects of climate change. Over the last decade, the UK has experienced some of its warmest years on record. In fact, the Met Office confirmed that 2022 was the warmest year since records began, and was also the first year that temperatures in the UK rose above 40 degrees Celsius. In just the last three decades (from 1991) the UK’s average temperature has risen by 1.1 degrees Celsius. 

And it’s not just increased temperatures that are impacting the UK, climate change has also affected precipitation patterns in the country. With wetter winters and drier summers, the UK is having to adapt its water management to counteract the increased risk of drought. Flooding over winter months is also on the rise, as are sea levels. It’s estimated that sea levels in the UK have risen by over 16.5 cm since 1900, and the Met Office predicts that it could rise by a further 1.12 meters before the end of the century!

The data and science show us that the impacts of climate change in the United Kingdom are very real and that they’re likely only going to get worse with time. This will have huge consequences for the country’s environment, economy, and public health - something that the UK Government needs to plan for and try to mitigate. But what about the UK population - what do Brits think about climate change? 

👉 To learn more about the climate change risks facing the UK head over to our article.

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What do Brits think about climate change?

Recent surveys provide some insight into the British public's growing concern regarding climate change. Data from the Office for National Statistics reveals that around 3 out of 4 adults (74%) reported feeling “very or somewhat” worried about climate change. In fact, climate change was one of the most pressing concerns for the UK public, coming in second only to the ongoing cost of living crisis.

However, this anxiety is not uniformly distributed across demographics. Notably, women exhibit greater concern (77%) compared to men (71%). Educational background also plays a role; those with higher education (83% among degree holders) express more concern than those without qualifications (62%). These disparities suggest that personal experiences and levels of understanding about climate change may vary across different groups.

Other surveys reflect these numbers, the most recent Ipso Political Monitor for example found that 77% of Brits were concerned by climate change. However, this is a slight decrease from the 84% reported in 2022. It's important to highlight that, despite this recent dip, concern is still considerably higher than a decade ago in 2013, when it stood at 60%.

What do these statistics reveal? They paint a picture of a public increasingly attuned to the realities of climate change, marked by a growing awareness and a deepening sense of responsibility. The direct impacts of climate change, such as the intensifying weather events and their visible effects on the UK, have undoubtedly played a significant role in shaping this concern.

Yet, the drop in concern from last year is something that needs to be kept an eye on. It may reflect the immediate economic pressures facing the UK public. With the cost of living soaring, households across the country are grappling with the affordability of necessities like food and heating. In the face of such immediate challenges, the long-term threats of climate change can seem less urgent. This juxtaposition of immediate economic hardships against the looming, albeit more abstract, threat of climate change presents a complex scenario for public perception and policy prioritization.

Another worrying trend that has been observed in the UK is the spread of misinformation concerning climate change across social media platforms. A recent study by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) highlights a growing trend of climate change denial on platforms like YouTube. The content increasingly targets the validity of climate science and the effectiveness of solutions. The study found that 31% of UK teenagers believe the impacts of climate change are exaggerated, a figure that increases to 37% among those heavily engaged with social media.

This trend not only reflects the changing tactics of climate deniers but also signifies a challenge for climate action advocacy, especially considering the influence of digital platforms on young minds. Experts like Imran Ahmed, CEO of the CCDH, and Michael Khoo, a climate disinformation expert, emphasize the role of social media in spreading these skeptical views. They urge platforms like YouTube to take stronger measures against content that undermines public understanding and support for climate action.

Do Brits think that their government is handling the situation well?

The British public's confidence in their government's handling of the climate crisis is notably low, especially under the current leadership of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. According to recent polls, only about one in four Brits (26%) believe that Sunak’s government is effectively dealing with climate change, while a significant 59% think that the government is performing poorly. 

These figures mark a slight drop from the previous UK government, headed up by Boris Johnson. Johnson had slightly higher approval ratings, with 29% believing his government was doing a good job and 55% perceiving their efforts negatively. These statistics reflect a growing public dissatisfaction with the government's approach to what many see as an urgent and critical issue.

A critical point of contention has been Rishi Sunak’s perceived U-turn on several key climate policies. Sunak - in what many see as a political strategy to garner more votes ahead of the election deadline of January 2025 - has been accused of politicizing environmental issues. This approach includes dialing back on previously promised environmental commitments and shifting focus to more immediate economic concerns. Such actions have sparked criticism and skepticism about the government's dedication to long-term environmental goals. This political gambit has been perceived by many as a short-sighted sacrifice of environmental priorities for electoral gains.

Yet this public sentiment does not necessarily translate into support for the opposition. Less than three in ten people (28%) think that a Labour government would handle the climate crisis more effectively. A considerable portion, almost half (48%), believe that Labour would perform similarly to the current government, and 15% even suspect that they would do worse.

👉 To learn more about Rishi Sunak's environmental track record and his recent green policy U-turns head over to our blog.

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Do Brits support government climate policy?

Despite the UK government's recent pivot towards a more "pro-motorist" and less climate-focused stance, particularly following the July 2023 by-election victory in Uxbridge, public opinion on climate policy appears to diverge from this political narrative. Research suggests that the government may be misjudging public sentiment. 

Contrary to the government’s recent moves, a significant majority of Brits actually support various forms of climate policy. Studies reveal strong public backing for a range of measures, including market-based initiatives (78%), information tools (86%), and voluntary measures (87%). This broad support suggests that the UK public is more open to comprehensive strategies to decarbonize the economy and achieve net zero targets than recent political tactics might imply.

👉 Learn more about the UK's efforts to reach net zero by 2050 in our article examining the review of the UK's net zero strategy.

London

Are Brits altering their lifestyles to combat climate change?

Brits might be generally supportive of climate action, but are they willing to take action on an individual level and alter their lifestyles in the face of climate change? While a substantial three-quarters of the population (75%) report having made significant or some changes to combat climate change, this figure represents a decline from 81% only a year earlier. This decrease suggests a fluctuating commitment to personal environmental actions and highlights a gap between awareness of the climate crisis and the translation of that awareness into consistent action.

So why are we seeing this drop? According to the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) data collected in 2022, the main hurdles include a perception that major polluters should lead the change (34%), a sense of uselessness in individual actions (32%) and the high cost associated with making environmentally friendly lifestyle changes (30%). 

Financial concerns, in particular, have gained more attention over the last year and have even become a key talking point in UK politics, with those citing cost as a barrier to implementing green lifestyle changes increasing from 21% to 30%. This economic factor extends to home improvements as well; among homeowners yet to install specific types of insulation, a significant number cite cost as a deterrent - 48% for double glazing, 29% for loft insulation, and around 22% for cavity or solid wall and underfloor insulation. These figures underscore the necessity for affordable and accessible options for individuals looking to make a positive environmental impact.

Key takeaways

One of the key takeaways from these studies is the growing awareness and concern among Brits regarding climate change, yet this is coupled with hesitancy to fully embrace the lifestyle changes necessary to combat it. While a notable 75% of Brits report having made changes to their lifestyles to address climate issues, this number has decreased from the previous year, indicating a potential conflict between environmental consciousness and practical application. This decline can also be attributed to a range of factors, most notably economic pressures, which are increasingly prioritized over environmental concerns. 

Additionally, there is a prevalent belief that the responsibility for substantial climate action lies more with major polluters and less with individuals. This perspective highlights a critical gap between understanding the need for action and feeling empowered or financially capable of making those changes.

Another significant observation is the evident skepticism towards the government's handling of climate change. Only a quarter of Brits believe the current government is effectively addressing this crisis, a sentiment that has worsened when compared to the previous administration. This lack of confidence extends across political lines, with no strong belief that a change in government would lead to significantly improved climate policies. This disillusionment is partly rooted in recent policy reversals and perceived political strategies that prioritize short-term electoral gains over long-term environmental commitments. The public's response underscores a growing desire for more decisive and transparent action from leaders, reflecting a broader understanding that the challenges of climate change require concerted efforts at both individual and systemic levels.

What about Greenly?

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required. 

If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.

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