COP27: UK public support for climate action falls amid cost-of-living crisis

The percentage of Britons willing to reduce their carbon emissions by changing their behaviour, such as eating less meat, has fallen 13 percentage points in the past year from 64% to 51%, a new poll by public services think tank the Serco Institute has shown.

12% of UK residents are willing to pay more in taxes to reduce emissions, up five points from 7% last year, and nearly three in 10 (27%) are unwilling to either change their behaviour or pay more in taxes to reduce emissions, also up five points from 2021.

These new findings come as world leaders have gathered in Egypt for the COP27 UN Climate Change Conference, and one year after the UK hosted the COP26 Conference at which landmark deals to end deforestation, curb methane emissions and ‘phase down’ coal-fired power plants were struck.

The Institute’s survey, conducted in collaboration with polling experts at Survation, follows on from an identically worded polling question put to the British public in late 2021 shortly after COP26 in Glasgow, and suggests that the events of the past year, including the war in Ukraine, the rising cost of living and a severe worldwide energy crisis, have dampened popular support for the transition to net zero emissions.

UK citizens furthermore indicated their desire for the Government to prioritise the cost of living crisis in a follow-up question: almost half (46%) of respondents felt the net zero transition should be de-prioritised until UK energy supplies are secure and energy bills stable, while 40% believed net zero should be maintained as a policy priority. Excluding the 14% of respondents who answered ‘Don’t Know’, this means 53% of Britons who expressed an opinion felt net zero should be de-prioritised until the energy supply and power bills crises were contained, while 47% felt net zero should remain a priority for the Government.

The research showed evidence of views on net zero diverging broadly along political lines: 29% of 2019 Conservative voters were unwilling to change their behaviour or pay more in taxes to reduce emissions, six to seven percentage points above the number of Labour (23%) and Liberal Democrat (22%) voters who said the same. More strikingly, nearly six in 10 (58%) Conservative voters felt net zero should be de-prioritised for the time being, compared to just 38% of Labour and of Liberal Democrat voters.

Commenting on the findings, Serco Institute Deputy Director Ben O’Keeffe said:

“It is perhaps not unexpected that public support in the UK for net zero and reducing carbon emissions has fallen somewhat as a result of the events of the past year. However, it’s worth noting that a majority of Britons are still happy to make behavioural changes to reduce their carbon footprint, and that nearly one in two UK voters feel the Government doesn’t need to de-prioritise net zero as a policy.

“Recent UN reports state that the need for climate action is becoming rapidly more urgent, but so too is the cost-of-living crisis and the issue of rising fuel costs for millions of Britons. The question for policymakers is how to balance the needs of British citizens with the UK’s commitment to net zero.

“The not-insignificant share of the UK public unwilling to change their behaviour or pay more in taxes to reduce their emissions has actually risen in the past year to nearly three in 10. It’s clear there is still work to be done if the Government plans to ‘bring the public along’ in the drive towards net zero emissions in the UK.”

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