A concern in common: new polling shows strong public support for climate action

New polling for Conservative think tank Bright Blue reveals the public’s top environmental priorities and highlights strong agreement across our society for both tackling and leading on climate change. In this guest blog, Philip Box, Researcher at Bright Blue and National Trust volunteer, takes a look at the results.

A wind-shattered tree on the shores of Buttermere, Lake District, Cumbria.

A wind-shattered tree on the shores of Buttermere, Lake District, Cumbria. ©National Trust Images/David Noton

With both the Queen and Sir David Attenborough joining forces to protect our planet, the appetite for action on key threats to the UK’s environment shows no signs of subsiding.

A recent poll for Bright Blue reinforces that message – highlighting strong public concern about the main threats from climate change.

Our findings have indicated strong levels of agreement across society, both for action and the UK taking the lead internationally on combating climate change.

It’s everybody’s concern

Our polling, conducted by Opinium, used a nationally representative sample of over 4,000 adults from across the UK. We also analysed two further representative subsets: UK adults aged under 40; and Conservative voters at the 2017 General Election.

We included key characteristics – such as age, location, and socio-economic grade – to test whether there was any variation between groups. Our results revealed strikingly strong agreement, with some interesting variances.

Top issues

The public’s principal long-term environmental issue for government attention was plastic pollution (61% chose this amongst their top three), with tackling air pollution and climate change roughly equal second (see Chart 1 below).

Interestingly, this ordering did not change according to respondents’ socio-economic circumstances. However, there was some variation according to geographical location and age.

Amongst those aged over 55 or living in a suburban area, ‘making farming and fishing more sustainable’ rose to second place. Tackling climate change was an alternative second place for those aged 18-34.

Concern for climate change was not however limited to younger people. Just over a half of the public (51%) are now more worried about it than they were ten years ago. This is slightly higher among under 40s at 57%.

This reflects the growing scientific evidence regarding the impending impacts of climate change on both our natural environment and economy.

The struggle for the UK’s nature

With tell-tale signs of climate change becoming ever more apparent, 64% of UK adults agreed that global weather is becoming more extreme as a result of man-made climate change, with 54% of Conservatives and 72% of under 40s also in agreement.

This extreme weather has been observed to have significantly negative impacts on native species, from the hedgehog to the blackbird, and present substantial risks to agriculture through flooding and droughts.

When asked about the domestic impact of climate change they would most wish to see discussed more by senior politicians, ‘losses to wildlife’ came joint second at 34%, only 1% behind flooding and equal with higher food prices.

Top priorities varied regionally. Results from the South West and Yorkshire and Humber indicate their priority impact was flooding (41% each).

The impacts on wildlife scored most highly in Northern Ireland and the South, at 40% each. Overall, however, the top issue for Northern Ireland was higher food prices from lack of water and poorer soil (41%).

Organisations like the National Trust have been no stranger to these concerns, with rising insurance claims from flood events and an increasing number of coastal sites vulnerable to erosion.

A nation under threat

Climate change clearly has the potential to harm some of our most cherished national landscapes, including our heritage sites and treasured places.

One of the examples highlighted in the National Trust’s Forecast Changeable report showed how intense rainfall led to leaks through the windows of Grade I listed mansion The Vyne in Hampshire, intruding into some of the most historically important rooms. This damaged six tapestries, dating back to 1710, and cost £60,000 to repair.

The way forward

Thankfully, there is a strong public support for the UK to lead the way in helping tackle the problem, before the risks and costs multiply further.

Clear majorities of people supported UK leadership on tackling climate change, with 63% agreeing the UK should be a global leader (66% of under 40s agree and 56% of Conservative voters).

Interestingly, 64% agree the UK should aim to cut its net emissions to zero in the next few decades, so it doesn’t add any more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere (64% of under 40s and 58% of Conservatives).

Together these findings show strong underlying public support for the recent announcement on reviewing the UK’s long-term climate change target and moving towards a ‘net zero’ emissions economy.

With concern evident across society, the case for definitive action to safeguard our precious national environment clearly commands widespread support.

The original data and further analysis of Bright Blue’s polling can be viewed here.

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