Has climate change become our main concern?

This chapter examines the public’s attitudes to the environment. It considers whether concern for the environment has increased and whether climate change has become our main environmental topic of concern. It examines beliefs about the causes and impacts of climate change and support for different approaches to paying for the protection of the environment.

The proportion who believes that climate change is the most important environmental problem for Britain increased from 19% to 45% between 2010 and 2021. The proportion viewing air pollution as the main problem also increased, but by a much smaller amount. There have been falls in the proportions identifying domestic waste disposal and the running out of natural resources, such as oil and gas, as the most important environmental problems.

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Concern for the environment is increasing

People are more concerned about the environment than they were a decade ago and it is
viewed by more people as a political priority.

  • 40% are very concerned about the environment, almost double the proportion who reported this in 2010 (22%).
  • The proportion who considers the environment to be one of the two most important issues facing Britain increased from 8% in 2010 to 21% now.
  • Only health care, the economy and education are viewed by more people as being among the two most important issues facing Britain.

Climate change is the dominant issue

Climate change has become the dominant environmental issue but is certainly not the only one.

  • 45% view climate change as the most important environmental issue, up from 19% in 2010.
  • A majority (60%) believe that the world’s climate has been changing mostly due to human activity, while only 6% say the climate has not been changing or that it has been changing mostly due to natural processes.
  • 64% see a rise in the world’s temperature caused by climate change as extremely or very dangerous – comparable to the proportions that see air pollution caused by industry (62%) or pollution of Britain’s rivers, lakes and streams (62%) as dangerous.

The majority are willing to pay for the environment

The majority of people are willing to pay in some way for the protection of the environment,
but there is no consensus on the best way to do this.

  • 57% say they are willing to pay either through higher prices, higher taxes, or by a change in their standard of living, while 18% are unwilling to pay in any of these ways.
  • 76% of those who are very concerned about the environment are willing to pay for its protection, while 10% remain unwilling, despite their concern.
  • The most commonly suggested route for getting business and industry to pay for the protection of the environment is with heavy fines for polluters (38%), while, for individuals and families, there is most support for information and education (42%).

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