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Public attitudes to climate change in Great Britain

Before and since COVID-19

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Published: June 2021

This research examined attitudes to climate change and the environment in Britain before and since COVID-19.

You can download the full report here: Public attitudes to climate change in Britain: Before and since COVID-19 (PDF)

We asked over 2,000 people in Britain for their views in December 2019 and July 2020 through NatCen’s award-winning probability-based panel.

Key findings

Views on the causes of climate change and views on media reporting

  • In December 2019, 67% of people in Britain said that climate change over the past 100 years is mainly or entirely caused by human activity. 23% of people said that climate change is caused roughly equally by natural processes and human processes. 7% said it is mainly or entirely caused by natural processes and 3% did not think the climate has been changing.
  • Younger people (those aged under 40) were significantly more likely to think that climate change was mainly or entirely caused by human processes than those aged 40 or over.
  • Just over half (52%) of people disagreed with the idea that the media exaggerate the risk posed by climate change, compared with a quarter (25%) who agreed.

Responsibility for addressing climate change

  • In December 2019, 42% of people in Britain said government organisations were most responsible for addressing climate change, above business and industry (28%), energy suppliers (27%) and members of the public (22%).[1]
  • Around one in five people (18%) said the government was doing enough to address climate change in the pre-pandemic survey (December 2019) and during the pandemic (July 2020).

Attitudes to disruptive protests calling for stronger action on climate change

  • In December 2019, nearly two-thirds of people said non-violent protests that obstruct public life (60%) or peaceful marches or sit-ins in unauthorised locations (63%) are at least “sometimes” acceptable to call for stronger action on climate change.
  • However, most people (91%) considered violent obstruction of public life and destruction of property to be rarely or never acceptable

Views on the environment during the pandemic

  • The majority (72%) of people in July 2020 said the government should aim to maintain the positive effects of the pandemic on the environment even if that means a slower economic recovery, and 28% said the government should aim for a quicker economic recovery from the pandemic, even if that means reversing positive effects on the environment
  • said the government should aim for a quicker economic recovery from the pandemic, even if that means reversing positive effects on the environment.

Methodology

Questions on climate change, climate protests and the environment were put to a nationally representative sample of the British public using NatCen’s probability-based online and telephone panel.

This random probability panel is formed of people recruited from the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey which has been critical in gauging public opinion for nearly 40 years.

The first wave of fieldwork ran from 21st November to 11th December 2019 and 2429 NatCen panel members took part.

The second wave of fieldwork ran from 2nd July to 26th July 2020 and 2413 NatCen panel members took part.

For both waves, panel members were interviewed online and over the phone to ensure full coverage of the population and to optimise responses.



[1] Participants were able to assign more than one group as being most responsible for addressing climate change, meaning figures for this question do not sum to 100%.

Download the full report