On August 7th, the UK experienced its hottest August day in 17 years. It came as the Meteorological Office warned that temperatures of up to 40 Celsius could become a regular occurrence in the UK by 2100 if climate change risks are not mitigated in time. Amid growing concerns about the impact of climate change in the UK, Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ latest poll in Great Britain assessed the attitudes of the public towards climate change.
Our research indicates that a clear majority (63%) of respondents in Great Britain agree that climate change is a direct threat to the UK, a view shared by 61% of those who voted Conservative in the 2019 General Election, and by 71% of those who voted Labour.
Interestingly, respondents above the age of 65 (65%) and between the ages of 55-64 (69%) are more likely to agree that climate change is a direct threat to the UK than those between the ages of 18 to 24 (50%). These findings contrast with the view that young people are more likely to fear the climate crisis than their older counterparts.
The results may be linked to older people’s heightened perception of immediate personal risk related to climate change. In particular, heatwaves in 2019 caused hundreds of excess deaths amongst elderly people. Indeed, those above the age of 65 were the most likely group (37%) to be “very concerned” about climate change. Overall, we found that 45% of the UK public are “somewhat concerned,” 34% are “very concerned,” and 17% are “not concerned” about climate change.
Labour voters are significantly more likely to be “very concerned” about climate change (40%) than Conservative voters (28%). Conservative voters, on the other hand, are equally as likely to be “somewhat concerned” about climate change (47%) than Labour voters (46%). A significant minority (23%) of respondents who voted for the Conservative party in 2019 are “not concerned” about the influence of human activity on the environment against just 10% of Labour voters. In the 2019 General Election, some claim that the Conservative manifesto focused less on issues pertaining to climate change than Labour’s, despite indications that a majority of UK voters stated that climate change would affect how they would vote prior to the election. Since then, the UK Government has nonetheless increased its efforts to engage with environmental issues, ruling out any funding to foreign fossil fuel projects just this month, for instance.
However, we found that eight months after the election a majority (52%) of the UK public agrees that the Government is not doing enough to tackle climate change, whereas 14% disagree and think the Government is doing enough.
Notably, a significant plurality (41%) of respondents who voted Conservative in 2019 also agree that the Government is not doing enough to mitigate the escalating climate crisis. Although the Government has recently outlined plans to introduce a new law to stifle illegal deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest, the One Nation group of moderate Conservative MPs has also put pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to deliver a ban on fossil fuel cars and impose a domestic carbon tax. It should be noted, however, that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has taken up most of the Government’s time since the election, impeding the Government from delivering a clear climate agenda.
At this stage, a majority (51%) of respondents agree that climate change is the single most dangerous threat facing humanity, with 23% of respondents disagreeing.
Moreover, 34% of respondents answered that climate change has had a noticeable impact on their local community against 29% who disagree.
Importantly, Labour voters (46%) are significantly more likely to have noticed the impact of climate change in their local community compared to Conservative supporters (26%). It may also well be that those who vote Labour live in areas generally more affected by climate change, as seen with floods engulfing northern England, or the air pollution which blights the Party’s urban base. On the other hand, it could also be the case that Labour voters are more likely to associate phenomena they observe with climate change given their higher levels of concern for the issue.
When it comes to mitigating the climate crisis going forward, half (50%) of the UK public is prepared to buy environmentally-friendly products, even if they cost more. Less than a fifth (19%) of Brits are not prepared to pay more for environmentally-friendly projects. Labour voters are much more likely (61%) to be prepared to buy environmentally friendly products than Conservative voters (45%), yet this figure still represents a plurality of Conservative voters who would be willing to pay more in order to help protect the environment.
The overall willingness of respondents to change their habits in order to tackle climate change was also present in our April research, which found that a majority (52%) believed the Government should set aside a few days a year to ask members of the public to stay at home as a means to tackle climate change. The unusual measure came as reports indicated that lockdown policies induced by the coronavirus crisis led to an improvement of air quality across Europe. Moreover, earlier this month, a clear majority (56%) of Londoners agreed that most streets in central London should be made pedestrian-only, which would have a positive environmental impact.
Support for proactive Government measures to tackle climate change is also indicated within this poll. In June, more than 200 UK firms called on the government to deliver a recovery plan that prioritised the environment, stating that ‘green strings should be the rule, not the exception’. A significant plurality (38%) of the UK public thinks that financial assistance provided by the Government to businesses that have suffered during the coronavirus pandemic should be tied to changes in their environmental policies. Less than a third (31%) disagree with this proposal.
Overall, our research indicates that the UK public perceives climate change as a threat to the UK. Interestingly, older respondents are more concerned about the impact of rising temperatures than younger people. Importantly, our findings point to a significant partisan gap: respondents who voted for Labour in 2019 are somewhat more likely to express their environmental concerns than those who voted for the ruling Conservative Party, yet climate is increasingly becoming a cross-party issue, as opposed to a partisan one. Indeed, a significant portion of Conservative voters think that the Government is not doing enough to tackle climate change.