Climate Sock

Energy taxes: new polls show why they’re under attack

Posted in Climate Sock, Energy sources on October 27th, 2013 by Leo – 1 Comment

A glut of polls this week has shown more clearly what the country thinks about government levies on energy bills. The results tell us both why the measures are under attack, and also how environmentally-conscious politicians can protect funding for renewables.

According to the polls:

1. There’s support for green taxes in principle

The Mail on Sunday must have been disappointed when their Survation poll last week found that people are generally happy with green taxes used to pay for renewables. They asked the question in several ways, but every time found that people are more likely to support green taxes than oppose them. For example:


2. People don’t want to pay green taxes themselves

But things change when the polls ask whether people are actually willing to pay personally for green measures. This week, the Mail on Sunday had another go, with more direct questions, and found roughly three-to-one opposition to ‘green taxes’ being on energy bills when they had a price tag attached:


Together these two points look a bit like what Hopi Sen calls ‘pony polling’: would you like something nice (that someone else will pay for)?

Except it’s not quite that, because:

3. People are willing to pay levies for social measures

This week’s Mail on Sunday poll asked about each of the social and green measures that add costs to energy bills. It found there’s more support for keeping the things that directly benefit consumers – particularly those that distribute help to the poorest people*:

So there’s a specific problem with support for renewables. People want renewables to be expanded, but not so much that they’re actually happy to pay more themselves.

With the parties agreeing that energy bills are too high and with the scrutiny on the government levies, it’s likely that the levies will be changed, though from the chart above, the social measures should be secure (it would be a massive own goal for the Tories to remove another measure protecting the poor when it doesn’t help with deficit reduction).

But the question is whether, after any changes, funding for green measures will survive (through some other means), or if they’ll be cut by a government that reckons it gets more credit from reducing the cost of living than it gets opprobrium for abandoning efforts to be green.

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Should Labour pledge to abolish taxes on energy bills?

Posted in Climate Sock, Energy sources on October 21st, 2013 by Leo – Comments Off on Should Labour pledge to abolish taxes on energy bills?

This was originally posted on LabourList. The original (and interesting comment thread) is here.

Government charges on energy bills help fund the UK’s switch to renewable energy, and also subsidise heating and insulation for the poorest and elderly. But with energy prices soaring and the Tories’ attacks on the taxes increasing, there’s a good case for Labour to consider replacing the taxes with something that achieves the same results but takes the burden away from people who’re struggling to pay their bills.

The charges are currently made up of two things: green levies that support the switch to a low carbon energy supply: 4% of an average bill (in fact, there’s agood case that this will also produce lower energy bills in the long term). A slightly larger amount (5% of an average bill) is for helping poorer people with heating and insulation.

The populist case against taxes on energy bills isn’t as obvious as it may seem. Most people, correctly, don’t think their energy bill is so high because of the cost of renewables: just 7% say taxes for turbines are the main factor driving up prices. So it may seem this isn’t a problem in most people’s eyes, just something dreamed up by the Telegraph and Mail, egged on by the Big Six energy suppliers.

But there’s still a case for changing things. Cutting household bills is one of the most popular things politicians could do: more than cutting taxes or increasing wages. And there’s enough truth that taxes are part of what’s driving high and rising energy bills, at least in the short-term, for there to be the impression that the burden of paying for climate change is falling on people who can’t afford it.

It’s a particular problem for Labour. The combination of the freeze on energy bills and a commitment to a 2030 decarbonisation target  will squeeze energy companies’ finances. Most people won’t be bothered by smaller corporate profits, but it will give the Tories the chance to paint Labour as failing to understand business and leaving a black(out) hole in their energy plans.

There’s also a political risk for Labour, of the Tories abolishing the taxes first. Already there arerumours that the Tories will address energy taxes in the Autumn Statement on 4 December. It’s not hard to imagine them scrapping a couple of the taxes and so neutralising Labour’s position as the party that offers the lowest energy bills. The SNP have just suggested something similar.

And there’s a social justice argument for changing the taxes. While the social charges distribute support to poorer people, this has to work against the regressive effect of increasing bills. There could be more progressive ways to pay for the UK’s shift to a less polluting and cheaper energy supply, and to helping poorer people get through the winter.

One problem with moving around any taxes is that the anger of the losers generally outweighs the gratitude of the winners. This could be partly mitigated if the losers are seen to be able to afford it, but even a progressive redistribution of energy taxes can’t be expected to get only a positive response.

There’s still another piece missing though. Even if the politics and economics are right, Labour and others still need to spend more time explaining why green taxes are necessary at all. The UK public overwhelmingly believes climate change is real and a threat, but there’s little understanding about what climate change will mean for the UK and why we should care. If Labour are to continue supporting decarbonisation, as they should, they need to get better at explaining why it matters.

Government charges on energy bills – whether green or redistributing – serve an important purpose. But with the Tories moving against them and Labour trying to fight the election as the party who’ll reduce the cost of living, the taxes are likely to come under increasing pressure. The benefits they bring may be best protected by Labour adapting the charges to reduce their burden on the poorest, while also putting more work into explaining why the UK should want a lower carbon and renewable energy supply.

Media interviews about the IPCC report: a few suggestions

Posted in Climate Sock on September 22nd, 2013 by Leo – 1 Comment

When the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report is published this week, most UK media coverage will be along the lines of:

Scientists say humans are almost certainly responsible for climate change and the world is on course for unprecedented warming over the next century. But the report reflects a gap between scientists and the general public, with growing numbers saying they don’t believe what scientists tell them about climate change.

If anyone doing interviews about the report is daft enough to be reading this blog, there are a few points I would suggest making.

1. The overwhelming majority of the country do believe climate change is real and the world needs to act to stop it.

Around 9 in 10 people think that climate change is happening – only 6% think it’s some kind of conspiracy*. And only 13% – fewer than one in seven people – say it won’t be a threat to Britain.

To put that in perspective, 18% say they want to get rid of the Queen and make Britain a republic: hardly a mainstream view, yet more popular than climate scepticism.

Those numbers haven’t really changed for the last four years**.


2. The report tells us in more detail, with more confidence, what we can expect to happen as a result of climate change

The two most important climate risks for the UK are flooding and summer heatwaves.

The floods in 2007 are estimated to have cost the economy £3.2bn pounds.

We usually don’t think about heatwaves as a bad thing, but the heatwave we had in August 2003 killed over 2,000 people.

Both heatwaves and floods are predicted to become much more common and more severe.

There are still uncertainties. Science by its very nature is never final and certain. But we know enough now to act.

At this point, you may be tempted to talk about how many degrees the world is projected to warm by. Don’t. 4° warming may sound terrifying to you, but it sounds fine to most people.


3. The question is no longer whether man-made climate change is happening. The question is now: what are we going to do about it?

Countries around the world have pledged to reduce the emissions that cause climate change. Even the countries that have traditionally been slow to act – like China and America – are now saying they will cut back their carbon pollution.

Getting these pledges is an important start, but the world needs to do a lot more to make them happen. That includes us – the UK’s independent Committee on Climate Change says we’re not on course to meet our commitment to cut our pollution.

And even if the world does cut its emissions, we’re already on course for some global warming. We have to make plans so we’re ready for it.

In the UK lots of people may wonder if their home will now be at more risk of flooding and if they’ll be able to get insurance. Some people may worry about older relatives and the effect of heatwaves on their health.

What are these risks?  Is the government doing enough? At the moment we don’t know because the information isn’t public.

This is what we should be talking about – so we can hold the government to account, to make sure it deals effectively with the most important risks, and spends our money well.


* A poll this month from the UK Energy Research Centre put those who say it’s not happening at 19%. A fair bit higher than the 5% above, but still barely a quarter of the number who say it’s happening.

** In fact, they went down a bit and then came back up. But the overall effect is of no change.

How can you convince the UK to care about climate change?

Posted in Climate Sock on September 11th, 2013 by Leo – 11 Comments

I’ve been arguing for a while that there’s been too little done to explain to the British public why they should care about climate change. If the problem is seen only to affect animals and people in other countries, campaigners will struggle to win mass support for action to tackle climate change. It has to be made real and personal, or many people just won’t care enough.

But that raises a difficult question. If people don’t already think that climate change will affect them and their family, how do you persuade them they should care?

Fortunately, a mega poll by MORI for Defra provides some answers and the starting point for what a campaign could look like.

According to the UK Climate Risk Assessment, the two most important climate risks facing the UK are flooding and summer heatwaves; I will focus on these as the possible bases for a campaign. However, the poll shows a radical difference in how they are perceived.

It won’t come as much of a surprise that most people in the UK think that flooding is the main risk from climate change (bear with me – it gets more interesting).

The chart below shows the proportion who think flooding has already become more frequent and the proportion who think it will become more frequent by 2050 – and the same for heatwaves. Flooding easily wins out:

Perhaps this is a product of how heatwaves and floods are distributed. Different parts of the country suffer floods at different times, and most serious incidents get news coverage – while heatwaves tend to hit the country in one go, so coverage is more concentrated. So floods may just be in the news more often*.

But I don’t think that’s the full explanation, and here’s where it starts to get interesting.

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Claims of a global warming pause have had no impact on public opinion

Posted in Climate Sock on August 22nd, 2013 by Leo – 1 Comment

The claim that climate change has paused has had a great few months in terms of media coverage – but Carbon Brief’s new poll suggests this hasn’t had any impact on public opinion.

The climate change ‘pause’* – the suggestion that global warming has stopped over the last 16 years – has had plenty of attention recently. Andrew Neil’s interview last month with the Energy & Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey began, “can global warming be happening as expected if the world has stopped getting hotter?”; the Mail have been talking about it for months; and some respected climate scientists have joined the debate.

If there was an organised campaign to change the debate about global warming – so it’s seen as something that’s uncertain rather than already started – it would look to be doing well. But getting a lot of coverage is only a start. Squeaky bum time for any campaign comes when the funders ask to see what the impact of all the coverage has been.

This is where a ‘climate change has stopped’ campaign that was aiming to change the wider debate about climate change would struggle. Because, despite the attention it’s had, almost no-one can remember hearing it, and overall opinion about climate change essentially hasn’t moved over the last seven months, when coverage has been at its highest.

Carbon Brief asked respondents to say which news stories they could remember hearing, from a list of real and made-up stories. The most frequently recalled were the Green Deal, stories about scientists faking data (higher than I expected), and scientists meeting to talk about the UK’s recent unusual weather.

The story that climate change has stopped over the last 16 years was recalled by just one in 20 people: less than a quarter of the number who thought they recalled a made-up story about China announcing it won’t limit its emissions.

Another question on views about climate change also suggests that the debate hasn’t had a measurable impact on public opinion.

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Fracking has hardly any public support – but opponents have a tough choice

Posted in Climate Sock, Energy sources on August 20th, 2013 by Leo – 6 Comments

Carbon Brief’s new poll shows how little support there is for shale gas fracking in the UK. But while the poll suggests supporters of shale have problems to overcome, it also shows that anti-frackers have a real challenge ahead.

Shale gas wells have the lowest support out of any domestic source of energy. Fewer than one in five would support the building of a shale well within 10 miles of their home: that compares with more than half who support wind turbines.


But opposition to shale isn’t yet solid. There are still 40% who aren’t sure either way about local fracking, and fewer opponents than there are for both coal and nuclear. The argument can still swing either way.

And dig into the reasons for people’s opinions about shale, and it’s clear that both sides have problems.

Support for fracking is on shaky ground

The reasons why people support shale are strongly angled towards its being a crucial source of energy for the country.

This is a winning argument if the debate happens on a national level. Everyone knows we need some kind of energy source, so if people agree that shale can provide secure, low-cost domestic energy for the country, it’s hard to find a national-level argument that beats it*.

But this only works if fracking will happen in, say, desolate and sparsely populated places. It’s less effective if fracking happens where people live and you’re facing emotional** arguments.

The reasons for opposition to shale indeed show the challenge for its supporters.

Earthquakes and contaminated drinking water not only sound horrible for people living near wells – they’re also outrageous enough to mobilise outrage across the country. If the country believes that fracking causes so much local damage (regardless of whether it does), the benefits of energy security aren’t enough to win the argument.

Anti-frackers have to make a tough decision

But this is also a major problem for anti-frackers – who have a big decision to make.

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Wind has three times the local support of shale gas fracking

Posted in Climate Sock, Energy sources on August 19th, 2013 by Leo – Comments Off on Wind has three times the local support of shale gas fracking

Carbon Brief’s new climate change and energy poll is just out and has loads of interesting results again. The most striking is that three times as many people would support new wind turbines within 10 miles of their home than would support a shale gas well.

Local fracking has the lowest support of any energy source out of all those tested. This is despite the media opposition to wind farms and the political backing for shale gas fracking.

Support for local wind turbines outweighs opposition by a factor of at least 1.8 in every UK region. Even among Tory voters, support (45%) is greater than opposition (31%).

For shale, no region can muster more than 21% support*. Little more than one in four (27%) of Tory voters would support a shale well within 10 miles of their home.

Part of the low support for fracking is a lack of knowledge about it – so many people are still undecided, rather than opposed. But even with lower knowledge, more people would oppose local shale gas wells than would oppose wind turbines, gas power stations or even coal mines.

A longer piece on campaigns and communications about fracking will be up here shortly.


* Ironically, the greatest support is in the North East – but still only 21%, against 33% opposition.

Climate denial: less popular than abolishing the monarchy

Posted in Climate Sock on June 25th, 2013 by Leo – 4 Comments

I said in my previous post that talking about climate denial is a mistake for campaigners, for various reasons, including that doubts about climate science are far less widespread than usually seems to be imagined.

Without wanting to labour the point, a new international Pew poll has just shown this again. The poll listed various possible global threats, and for each asked whether respondents consider them to be major or minor threats, or not to be threats.

For UK perceptions of climate change, the poll found the biggest group to be those who consider it a major threat (about half), followed by those who say it’s a minor threat (about a third), with only a small group saying it’s not a threat:

That 13% is about the same as the proportion in the Carbon Brief poll who said “climate change will probably never be a serious problem”.

To put this in perspective, about 18% want Britain to become a republic. So the view that climate change isn’t a threat is significantly less widespread than the desire to abolish the monarchy. From the way rejection of climate science is treated as a major phenomenon, you might not have guessed.

The climate debate has gone wrong – this year that can change

Posted in Climate Sock on June 9th, 2013 by Leo – 20 Comments

The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will be out from September this year. This should be a big deal: it’s six years since the last report, and that was headline news at the time. The report will be a chance for climate change, and what we do about it, to be one of the top issues in public debate for the first time since the 2009 Copenhagen Conference.

But for climate campaigners, activists and anyone who wants better action on climate change, what should be done with this opportunity? I believe it would be a mistake to use the coverage of the report to try to score points in the same arguments that have dominated over the last few years. Instead, there are other approaches that could reach a wider audience, move the debate past recurring arguments, and perhaps create a basis for more useful action on climate change.

We need to stop talking about climate denial

The problem, as I see it, is that much of the debate about climate change is dominated by whether or not it’s happening, how quickly it will happen, and the meta-debate about why ‘so many people’ don’t agree with the vast majority of climate scientists. One reason this is a problem was explained by US Republican pollster Frank Luntz: he recognised the goal for opponents of government action on climate change should be “to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate”. So long as the debate is about the science of climate change – most people only hear that there is a debate, not what each side is saying – people aren’t talking about what to do about it.

But you might respond: how can we ask people to agree to action on climate change when they don’t believe it’s happening or caused by humans? It’s a logical question. But the polling shows that it’s a mistake to assume there’s a logical chain of reasoning. In fact, the debate about belief in climate change is based on two misconceptions: that people are widely and increasingly sceptical about climate change, and that their desire for action to tackle climate change depends on the extent to which they think it’s happening.

Because of these misconceptions, I think that the debate about whether or not climate change is happening is a distraction for people who care about climate change, and that we should change the subject.

The evidence is pretty clear that agreement with climate science is high and stable and that doubts about it are not increasing. The following chart is typical in showing that the same proportion now believes that climate change is real and manmade as did so before the UEA email hack. Most people think it’s real and manmade and a third think it’s real but natural; barely one person in 20 thinks it’s a fraud.

There are a couple of exceptions to this. Globescan found that environmental concerns fell this year, though that runs counter to every other poll I’ve seen. Agreement with climate science also fell before the start of the chart above, after a peak sometime around 2006 and the Stern Report.

But more important than what’s happening to those numbers is what the numbers mean. The polls suggest that what people say about their belief in climate change doesn’t have much to do with whether they want action to tackle it.

It’s such an important point I’m going to show two separate charts to demonstrate it. Firstly, a poll just after Copenhagen showed that most people who said they think climate change is natural, or not happening at all, were satisfied with a plan to reduce worldwide emissions. To put it another way, over three in five ‘climate sceptics’ want international action to tackle climate change:

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Poll: It doesn’t matter what’s causing it – UK adults believe the government must act on climate change

Posted in Climate Sock on April 4th, 2013 by Leo – 3 Comments

This is the latest in the series of blogs on Carbon Brief’s new energy and climate change poll. It was written by Ros Donald and Christian Hunt and the original is available here.

Are scientists, communicators and policymakers too preoccupied about whether people ‘believe’ in human-caused climate change or not? Polling by Carbon Brief shows that while people may not be sure whether humans are warming the planet, the majority still wants action now to abate climate change.

According to polling carried out for Carbon Brief by Opinium, 89 per cent of respondents said they believe climate change is happening. Only six  per cent said they did not believe the climate is changing.

But opinion was divided when it came to what’s causing climate change. The majority – 56 per cent – said humans are causing the warming, but a significant number – around 33 per cent – believe it’s mostly down to natural causes.

Belief Graph .png

Question: Which of the following statements do you agree with most? Climate change is happening and is mostly caused by humans; Climate change is happening and is mostly caused by natural processes; Climate change is not happening.

How significant is this? We found that despite the confusion about what’s causing global warming, 67 per cent of respondents want action to abate emissions now. That’s compared to 13 per cent who said we don’t need to worry about doing anything now and 12 per cent who said it would never be a problem.

Action Graph .png

Question: Which of the following statements do you agree with most?

So whatever people’s beliefs about the causes of climate change, they still want us to do something about it.

Previous study

This result mirrors the outcome of  an Angus Reid poll, released just after the Copenhagen climate summit and the leak of climate scientists’ emails from the University of East Anglia in 2010. These events are widely reported in the media as being the cause of much skepticism in the public.

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