Thursday 29th September 2016                 Change text size:

Public understanding grows on energy and climate change consensus



greenhouse gas by Climate and Ecosystems Change Adaptation Research University Network via flickr

The British public is becoming more aware of the scientific consensus on climate change and the public consensus on renewable energy, a survey shows. The ComRes survey for the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) reveals that adults in Great Britain are more likely than a year ago to know that almost all climate scientists believe climate change is mainly the result of human activities.

People are also more likely than they were a year ago to know that more than three-quarters of the UK public supports renewable energy.

ECIU, a non-profit think-tank that supports informed debate on energy and climate change, commissioned the survey to detect changes in public understanding a year after asking the same questions in its initial launch survey.

Many studies show that well over 90% of climate scientists, perhaps as many as 97%, think that the main cause of climate change is human activity.

The ECIU/ComRes survey shows that only 16% of Britons know that ‘almost all’ climate scientists share this view. That has risen from 11% a year ago. The percentage of the public thinking that either ‘a majority’ or ‘almost all’ scientists take this position has also risen, from 53% a year ago to 61% now.

“Growing awareness of the scientific consensus on climate change is an important finding, because good understanding helps citizens to engage knowledgably with the democratic process,” said the Earl of Selborne, the Conservative Peer who chairs the House of Lords Select Committee for Science and Technology.

“But a substantial gap between perception and reality remains, which is troubling. It poses a challenge to opinion leaders, notably in politics and the media, to communicate facts clearly to the general public so they appreciate the rationale for climate change policies.”

The survey also looked at perceptions of public opinion regarding renewable energy. Repeated studies by the government and others show that more than three-quarters of the UK population supports renewables, and only a tiny proportion – less than 5% – opposes it.

In ECIU’s 2014 launch survey, only 5% of the population knew that public support for renewables was this high. This time, the figure came in at 9%.

And 48% of the population knows that less than a quarter of the public opposes renewables – up from 37% last year.

Robin Lustig, the journalist and broadcaster who presented BBC Radio Four’s The World Tonight for 23 years, suggested the media may be doing a better job of reflecting the realities to their public.

He said: “It’s obvious that the media have a crucial role to play in conveying accurate information to listeners, viewers and readers, and these small but significant rises in the number of people who are accurately informed suggest that journalists and editors may now be doing a better job.

“But there is clearly a long way to go on both these issues, and it’s a shame that there are still too many articles and programmes suggesting that climate science is discredited or that the public hate renewable energy.

“Especially in such a critical year for energy and climate change, with the approach of the UN climate summit and the UK government actively re-shaping energy policy, it’s more important than ever that the media get their facts right, while still allowing space for informed debate.”

Both Mr Lustig and the Earl of Selborne sit on ECIU’s Advisory Board.

Overall, the survey showed that the consensus among British adults that climate change is happening and is mainly caused by human activity has not changed significantly (57% in 2014 and 59% in 2015). Among 18-24 year olds, the figure is 73%; and among those aged 65+, 48%.

ComRes interviewed 2,015 GB adults online between the 16th and 17th September 2015. Data were weighted to be representative of all GB adults aged 18+. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. The data tables are available on request. The survey and data table can also be found at www.comres.co.uk.


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