Northern surveys show high levels of concern about climate change

25th November, 2018 - 00:33


Public concern about climate change appears to be on the rise, according to a survey on climate solutions carried out by a group of universities in the north of England during Green GB Week.

The survey, produced by the Priestley International Centre for Climate, was conducted using face to face interviews at locations in Leeds, York, Newcastle and Manchester simultaneously.

Just over half (50.6%) of those surveyed said they were “very concerned” about climate change while a further 39% were “fairly concerned”.  Only ten per cent were not very concerned or not at all concerned. A substantial majority (82%) said they had personally noticed signs of climate change.

Results of the snapshot survey contrast with the much larger British Attitudes Survey conducted in July 2018, which found that only a quarter of people were very or extremely worried about climate change, while 45% were “somewhat worried” and 28% were either "not very worried" or "not at all worried" about it.

Solutions focus

The solutions survey, which was aimed at discovering what actions people favour to tackle climate change, showed that walking and cycling were the most favoured choices (82%), while using public transport and improving home energy efficiency were also very popular (around 70%). Shopping locally (66%) and cutting down on meat and dairy (55%) were relatively highly rated but only 35% were prepared to fly less, which has the highest carbon footprint of all the personal actions listed.

When asked to choose three actions they would like to see happening locally to reduce carbon emissions, over two thirds picked renewable energy. Getting supermarkets to reduce food waste (almost 50%) and ensuring new homes are low carbon (43%) were the other popular choices.

In response to an open question on what would most inspire respondents to take personal action on climate change, the clearest call was for government interventions, ranging from incentives, influence big businesses to make change, demonstrating leadership and creating new legislation.

Ice caps and Trump

Responses to another open question, “What first comes to mind when you hear the words ‘climate change’?” were mixed: many cited melting ice caps and rising temperatures but confusion with the ozone layer was clear. Death and disaster and the impact on animals and biodiversity also featured, as did mentions of pollution, plastic and American president Donald Trump (see word cloud below).

The sample size for the survey was 419. The survey was also made available online, which produced a further 272 responses. These showed a demonstrably higher level of concern (76% were “very concerned”) and greater willingness across the board to take personal action, including on reducing flying (47%). As these responses were self selecting they were tallied separately.

The surveys were conducted for a public engagement session called “Climate Chats” by volunteers from the Universities of Leeds, York (Stockholm Environment Institute and York Environmental Sustainability Institute), Newcastle and Manchester (Tyndall Centre) and processed by Priestley Centre researcher Kate Sambrook. Art, music, poetry and museum artefacts were used by the researchers to attract attention and start conversations with the public, including a performance at Leeds Station.

Co-ordinated public engagement

The surveys took place on Monday 15 October, the first day of Green GB Week and seven days after the publication of the IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C. The report made headlines around the world, with the urgency and scale of emissions reductions needed to stay under a temperature rise of 1.5°C coming through strongly.

The climate solutions survey was also used to collect questions from members of the public to put to a panel of climate scientists from the four universities and other experts at a Climate Question Time event on Thursday 16 October. The sold out event, which was held in the council chamber at Leeds Civic Hall, attracted an audience of 120 and was livestreamed on the University of Leeds YouTube channel.

Main image: ​Priestley Centre researchers conducting their survey at Leeds Station (Prof Frank Finlay)