I was asked recently to do a short briefing on public opinion about energy and climate change. What I’ve written will be familiar to this site’s regular reader – but may be of interest to anyone else who wants a quick summary and doesn’t like charts.
- Widespread belief the climate is changing and is a threat to Britain
- Most claiming to be undecided about climate change are soft sceptics responding to the polarisation of the debate – they still want government to tackle climate change
- Very few think no need for action
- Flooding seen as easily the biggest threat
- Little appetite to pay directly for green measures, though acceptance of use of tax system
- Green energy popular despite anti-wind campaigns; opinion on fracking not settled
Just over half think the climate is changing with humans responsible – very few outright reject the idea of climate change.
- 56% say climate change happening and mostly caused by humans
- 33% say climate change happening and mostly caused by natural processes
- 6% say climate change not happening (Opinium)
This has stayed roughly constant over the last five years, though shows greater doubt than there was at the peak of concern about climate change around 2005.
Most of the change on ’05 is the rise of those in the middle – soft sceptics – who are responding to the polarisation of the debate. They think action on climate change is needed but don’t identify with values of green activists.
Responses to questions about climate change are often about political identity – not about understanding of climate science. Of those who say global warming is mostly caused by natural changes, 69% were still satisfied that Copenhagen aimed to cut global emissions by 50% by 2020.
Beyond the polarised debate about whether climate change is real, there is a widespread view that climate change is a threat to Britain and action is needed.
- 48% say climate change is a major threat to Britain
- 35% say climate change is a minor threat to Britain
- 13% say it isn’t a threat (Pew)
- 67% say climate change could be a serious problem and we need to act now to try to prevent it happening in the future
- 13% say climate change could be a serious problem but we don’t need to worry about it for now
- 12% say climate change will probably never be a serious problem (Opinium)
The overwhelming majority think flooding has already become more frequent and will be even more common by 2050. This is much more than for other climate impacts like heatwaves.
- 83% say flooding has become more frequent in their lifetime
- 81% say flooding will become more common by 2050
- 33% say heatwaves will become more common by 2050 (Defra)
Flooding is intuitively understood but other impacts need more explanation. For example to make the case for adapting to heatwaves, communications need first to explain the health effects of extreme heat, particularly for the elderly.
Consumers resist being made to pay directly for green measures, but accept that measures can be funded through general taxes
There is general support for green taxes in principle, but opposition to specific charges on bills:
- 40% support green taxes in general; 29% oppose (Survation)
- 60% oppose £128 charge on energy bills for green measures (Survation)
But the most popular solution is for green and social measures to be sustained and funded through general taxes:
- 39% say should be funded from other taxes instead of people’s energy bills
- 15% say should be funded by a levy on people’s energy bills
- 34% say should no longer by spent (YouGov)
Renewable forms of energy are easily the most popular, including locally
Wind, solar and tidal power consistently have the highest approval – far higher than fossil fuels and nuclear power.
Though support for wind turbines is lower when built locally, they still have twice the approval (52%) of any other form: gas (25%), coal (22%), nuclear (20%) (Opinium).
Shale gas fracking is still unpopular – but opposition is not yet settled and may reduce if safety concerns are overcome
Fewer than one in five would be happy to have a shale gas well within 10 miles of their home. But opposition to shale is based on fears about earthquakes and contaminated drinking water. Few people object to shale on the grounds they think it would reduce investment in renewables or lead to an increase in carbon emissions. If these safety concerns are overcome, we may see an increase in the numbers supporting fracking (Opinium).