Climate change has become one of the biggest issues concerning the British public, a new study led by Cardiff University reveals.
By Jo Field
The survey of over 1400 nationally-representative adults revealed that climate change was now ranked the second most important issue facing the UK, after Brexit.
Professor Nick Pidgeon, of Cardiff University’s School of Psychology and leader of the project, said that “this is a remarkable shift in British public opinion – the biggest change we’ve seen in recent years,”
The survey was carried out by researchers from Cardiff University and Climate Outreach and results were compared to previous studies conducted in 2010, 2013 and 2016, to see how public attitudes are changing. Since 2016, climate change has risen from 13th to 2nd place in terms of importance to the UK, overtaking immigration and the economy. Concern about climate change has doubled in the past four years, with 40% of respondents saying they were now “very or extremely worried”.
“With climate policy entering a critical phase, as the UK prepares to host the UN climate summit – and as many areas seek to recover from winter flooding – these survey results provide strong evidence of a shift in perceptions among the British public towards greater concern for climate risks and their impacts”, Pidgeon stated.
The results of this research come in the wake of recent flooding and storm events, which were rated as the highest perceived risks of climate change. The majority believe climate change has played a role in recent extreme weather events, and nearly two-thirds (64%) thought the effects of climate change were already being felt in Britain.
The survey found that flooding and storms are thought to likely increase in the future and that they prompt high levels of concern. There was also a surge in concern over heatwaves, with 72% believing that they are a severe problem for the UK.
The study also looked at public support for climate action, following nationwide protesting by Extinction Rebellion, School Strikes for Climate and the declaration of a climate emergency by the UK government. It found strong support for public spending on measures to help the UK adapt to climate change, such as improved flood defences.
There was support for subsidising renewable energy and improving public transport to cut CO2 emissions, however almost half of the respondents (48%) opposed increasing electricity bills to reduce consumption.
The research has been conducted as part of the UK Climate Resilience Programme, an £18.7m inter-multidisciplinary collaboration, led by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Met Office.
Dr Kate Lonsdale, of the UK Climate Resilience Programme, said that “The scientific consensus is increasingly clear that climate risks are increasing in likelihood and severity. Now we have evidence that people in Britain see these risks are relevant to their lives today rather than something that will happen in the future and in other places.”
It is unclear how this change in attitudes will be reflected in our actions but it sends a clear message to politicians and leaders; people are concerned about climate change and that concern is increasing.