Glasgow cimate change summit graphic landscape

(Article updated October 2021)

A recent (October 2020) poll by YouGov found 67% of the British public want Britain to be a world leader on environmental issues. And in February this year, YouGov also found that 75% thought climate change was the result of human activity, while only 2% believed it was not happening. As COP26 launches in Glasgow, we look at past opinion polls on the subject.

This British concern for environmental issues has been present for at least 30 years: an NOP poll in July 1990, held in the Archive, found 86% agreeing that there is an “urgent need for worldwide action on environmental problems” with 59% very concerned about the issue, especially global warning, ozone layer depletion, nuclear power stations and air pollution by traffic.

Within that, concerns involving the word ‘nuclear’ which in the sixties and seventies exclusively related to the bomb and the threat of World War III, switched in polling questions to the peaceful uses of nuclear power, following disasters at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Sellafield.

In qualitative research conducted by McCann-Erikson in 1983 there were strong objections to the idea of replacing fossil fuels with nuclear energy, with 56 respondents out of 60 in favour of no nuclear stations being built, but rather major government-funded energy-saving schemes and rapid development of solar, wind and wave power. And in a 1995 MORI poll, only 15% were in favour of privatising the nuclear power industry, with 60% opposed.

In America, where Trump had entirely rejected the Paris accords agreed by 195 other countries in 2016, the public have been a bit slower to recognise human involvement in climate change: in 2009, Pew Research found 49% saying climate change had mainly been caused by human activity, with 36% ascribing it to natural causes and 11% claiming there is no such thing as climate change. But by June 2020, Pew Research found only 20% saying it was more important for US energy supply to focus on expanding fossil fuels, while 79% thought it should focus more on alternative energy sources.

Contributed by Peter Bartram
Date posted: 15th April 2021; updated by Nick Tanner, October 2021


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