The Climate Challenge: Public Opinion on Climate Change

Windmills on a hill

The Climate Challenge: Public Opinion on Climate Change

Public perceptions and behaviours surrounding environmental issues have been changing - we mostly agree on the importance of tackling climate change, but how do we ensure that this turns into action?

We’ve seen time and again that climate change is an unwavering concern for a lot of the UK. Our latest data shows that it’s the public’s third biggest priority, which should be encouraging. But there are still ways to go to underscore the importance of environmentalism, and the role of the charity sector in fighting climate change.

But which is the bigger hurdle: public awareness of the issues, or public indifference? And have recent years shifted people’s priorities? Read on as we explore the top trends in public attitudes towards environmentalism, and our recommendations to environmental charities to keep up UK support for climate solutions. 


1. We are almost all aware of the issues

Some good news is that most of the UK believe that they can see the effects of climate change. 72% believe that it’s effects have become visible on a global scale, while 71% see it even within the UK. This is an encouraging majority, but still leaves a lot of room for increased awareness. Interestingly, awareness is spread evenly through every age bracket, meaning that climate messaging is reaching audiences across the board.

What is concerning is that 22% of the public are not sure that they see any evidence for climate change. Unifying the nation in its efforts to fight these issues has to be the priority, which means reaching this 1-in-5 who have yet to be convinced. 


2. The public are divided on whether the economy or environment should come first

We’re often faced with the idea that there may be a trade-off between the government either supporting the environment or economy. Thankfully, there is currently more support for tackling climate concerns over economic issues. 47% of the public would sooner see the government prioritise the environment, while only 38% believe that the environment should take a backseat to stimulating the economy (15% were unsure of which should take precedent).

The lockdown and cost-of-living crisis have financially impacted a huge number of people, so it should be no surprise that we saw a rise in 2020 for those who encouraged support for the economy even if it hurts the environment. The difficulty in reaching this audience is in making the case for the bigger picture, wherein the climate crisis does more long-term economic harm than they may realise. 


3. People are less eco-conscious across the board

The public are seemingly becoming less interested in fighting climate change in their day-to-day lives. We’ve seen a huge drop in the past decade for public adoption of eco-conscious habits, with every metric we measure in this field seeing reduced uptake. For instance, in 2011 we found that 84% of the public recycle, which as of 2022 has fallen to 63%. While older generations are still taking personal responsibility for climate concerns, 16-24 year olds are far less likely to be making any day-to-day efforts to reduce their environmental impact.

There has been an increase in those saying they’ve considered taking on more eco-conscious personal habits, but is seems that many have yet to pull the trigger on adapting their lifestyle. Ushering younger generations towards embracing the challenges of environmental awareness will be a key effort in the coming years. 


4. The role of the charity sector in fighting climate change isn’t being considered

One barrier between the public and environmental charities is the perception that charities and NGOs do not have an important role in the climate crisis. The public consider governments and corporations to have the largest roles to play, followed by international organisations such as the UN, then individuals, and finally charities. The sector needs to improve its standing in the minds of the public as impactful agents of change. It’s only through building trust in the effectiveness of environmental charities that we can guarantee public support in the future.


5. The public feels powerless

One final takeaway from our latest research is that public attitudes towards environmental issues are bleak. Of the top six responses to how the public feels emotionally about the climate crisis, five were negative: powerless, frustrated, depressed, angry, and afraid. Crucially, powerless is the most common response, which may be acting as a deterrent from action for many individuals who do not see that they can have any impact. 

Many respondents also felt hopeful, however. And this is what environmental messaging needs to tap into. The public will not be as keen to join a losing battle; what’s needed are the success stories of the sector, and the large-scale wins that it has accomplished. Inspiring action is vital, and ensuring that the public can see the benefit of their support is the best way to ensure this. 


This data is part of our CAM sector research. To learn more about our sector data, consider downloading information about CAM below. 

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