For many across the UK, the devastating flooding that has battered northern England over the last month has been an unwelcome taste of how climate change threatens livelihoods not just on remote Pacific islands, but in communities up and down the UK.
But while the flooding may have caused a spike in awareness of climate risks in recent weeks, confusion remains over climate issues, with many uncertain where the bulk of the UK’s carbon emissions come from and what can be done to tackle them.
A new YouGov poll, commissioned by WWF and released last week, questioned 104 MPs, more than 1,700 members of the public and 265 large UK businesses in an attempt to take the pulse of the nation on climate issues.
It provides a revealing snapshot into the concerns – and confusion – felt by many about climate change.
More than 37 per cent of the UK public believe the recent floods are a result of climate change, according to the poll – a view echoed by leaders of the UK’s main political parties last month, albeit with the caveat that no single weather event can be simply linked to changing climate trends.
Perhaps as a result of this rising awareness, the poll reveals a strong public desire for greater climate action from government, with 44 per cent of people agreeing the government is doing too little to reduce its carbon emissions, while just eight per cent think it is doing too much.
This sentiment is matched by large businesses, with 40 per cent of firms employing more than 250 people believing more should be done to cut the UK’s carbon emissions. In contrast, just 12 per cent of businesses say government is doing too much to cut emissions.
Even among lawmakers, half of MPs believe the government should be doing more to cut the UK’s carbon emissions, while just 12 per cent believe too much is being done. However, the poll reveals a stark difference between Conservative and Labour attitudes towards the issue. A staggering 96 per cent of Labour MPs say the government is doing too little to tackle emissions, while just 10 per cent of Conservative MPs feel the same.
However, this broad desire for stronger action on climate change is not matched by an in-depth understanding of the UK’s energy system. The poll reveals public confusion over the cost of energy from different sources – for example, 20 per cent of the UK public believe nuclear is the cheapest form of energy generation, when in reality it is one of the most expensive. Many also think offshore wind is cheaper than onshore wind – when the reverse is true.
Emma Pinchbeck, head of climate and energy at WWF, said the lack of public understanding is a result of unclear messages from government. “Despite clear support for ambitious action, the polling shows that people do not understand what such action entails,” she said. “It is particularly striking that incorrect views – such as thinking that nuclear offers good value for money – reflect government messaging. This shows the need for informed and accurate public debate.”
MPs were better informed than the general public when assessing carbon emissions by sector, with 68 per cent placing power generation as the prime emitter of carbon dioxide, compared to 38 per cent of the general public. However, emissions generated by buildings (both commercial and residential) were underestimated by both MPs and members of the public.
This misconception could become a problem for the government as it looks to meet emission reduction targets over the next Parliament, according to Pinchbeck. “Neither MPs nor the public identified the big role that their homes and business play in UK emissions,” she said. “This should worry the government when we are missing our targets for reducing demand – and we know this is undermining our ability to meet climate change targets. A national drive on energy efficiency would help raise awareness of cheap solutions that will cut bills and help save the planet.”
It seems that while appetite for action on climate change grows ever stronger, much of the UK – public and MPs alike – is still getting to grips with how best to cut emissions and strengthen low-carbon energy generation in the most cost-efficient way. As the flood waters slowly drain away across Britain and the clean-up gets underway, the New Year may also prove to be a good time for a national effort to clear up confusion around climate change.
Source: Climate Change