Concern about climate change reaches record levels with half now 'very concerned'

New polling shows 85% of Britons are now concerned about climate change, with the majority (52%) very concerned.

The author(s)

  • Antonia Dickman Public Affairs
  • Gideon Skinner Head of Political Research
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  • Concern about climate change reaches record levels with half now ‘very concerned’
  • Three in four think that Britain is already feeling the effects of climate change, up from 41% in 2010
  • Majority think that the UK should bring all emissions to net zero more quickly than by 2050

After last month’s sunshine saw thermostats hit record-breaking levels, new polling shows 85% of Britons are now concerned about climate change, with the majority (52%) very concerned – the highest levels Ipsos MORI have recorded since they began tracking concern in 2005.

This is a recovery from the trend which saw concern about climate change decline from 82% in 2005 to a low-point of three in five (60%) in 2013. For the first time, a majority (52%) now register as ‘very concerned’ about climate change, which has nearly tripled from when the question was last asked in 2014 (18%) and surpasses the previous record of 44% saying they were ‘very concerned’ in 2005. Only 14% say they are not concerned about climate change.

Concern about Climate Change

While all groups are worried, concern is particularly high among the middle classes (89% of ABC1s, compared with 80% of C2DEs). This corroborates research from Ipsos MORI’s Issues Index, which shows a similar divide, with ABC1s more concerned about the environment, and C2DEs more concerned by crime. It also divides along party lines, with around three in five Labour (64%) and Liberal Democrat (59%) supporters saying they are very concerned, compared to two in five (42%) Conservative supporters.

Nearly three in four (73%) say that Britain is already feeling the effects of climate change, continuing a trend which has seen this rise from two in five (41%) in 2010. Again, this follows a pronounced difference by social grade with agreement from four in five (81%) ABC1s, compared to three in five (62%) C2DEs. The number saying Britain will start feeling the effects in the next 25 years or longer has fallen from one in three (34%) in 2010, to now just 13%.

Feelings the effects of Climate Change

One in four (26%) think the recent hot weather in the UK was mainly caused by climate change as a result of human activity, while nearly three in five (57%) instead say it was partly caused as a result of human activity and partly by natural weather processes. Just 15% say it was mainly caused by natural weather processes, although among Conservative voters marginally more think it due to natural weather processes (23%) than the result of human activity (19%).

The majority of Britons (55%) think that the UK should bring all emissions to net zero more quickly than by the 2050 target announced by the Conservative government. One in four (26%) say the UK government’s current goal to bring all greenhouse gases to net zero by that date is ‘about the right target’. Four per cent say the UK should bring all emissions to net zero more slowly than 2050, and one in ten (11%) say Britain should not have a target at all.

Partisan differences show seven in ten Labour (70%) and Liberal Democrat (69%) supporters think the UK should achieve net zero emission more quickly than by 2050, compared to 37% of Conservative supporters. Two in five (37%) Conservative supporters think 2050 is about the right target, nearly double of Labour supporters (19%) who are less convinced.

Antonia Dickman, Head of Energy and Environment Research at Ipsos MORI, said:

In 2005/6 we saw a peak in concern about the environment, reflecting the prominence of media reporting around, for example, Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, the Kyoto Protocol coming into effect and the Stern Report. 
But climate fatigue appeared to set in, particularly in the aftermath of the economic crash when it struggled to compete for public consciousness. Recently though concern has been creeping up again, and after events such as Extinction Rebellion, the school strikes for climate, and the climate emergencies being declared by Local Authorities this latest poll shows the highest levels of public concern for climate change that Ipsos MORI has recorded in the last 15 years. 
The number of people saying they feel “very” concerned is a sign that public opinion is rebuilding in strength, and the record summer temperatures across the UK might also be contributing to an increasing sense among the public that our country is already feeling the effects of climate change.

Technical note

Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,007 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain. Interviews were conducted by telephone 26th – 30th July 2019.  Data are weighted to the profile of the population. All polls are subject to a wide range of potential sources of error.

The author(s)

  • Antonia Dickman Public Affairs
  • Gideon Skinner Head of Political Research

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