To what extent do Britons think human activity is responsible for climate change?

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
August 18, 2023, 9:15 AM GMT+0

Most people think humanity is ‘entirely or almost entirely’ responsible, or responsible for a ‘large majority’ of the change

Previous YouGov questions on belief in the existence of climate change have not established in much detail the extent to which people think humanity is responsible. Our website tracker question only asks whether or not people think humanity is responsible at all (alongside saying it doesn’t exist in the first place), while a 2019 international YouGov study allowed for respondents to distinguish between humanity being “mainly”, “partly” and “not at all” responsible.

Now a new YouGov survey looks at this attitude in a greater level of granularity.

Asked first whether or not they think the climate is changing, 87% of Britons say they believe it is. Only 7% say it is not, a slightly higher rate than we get with the compound question on the website tracker (generally 2-4%). A further 6% are unsure, a lower rate than the website tracker tends to generate (normally between 10-13%).

Respondents who say they believe the climate is changing were asked a follow up question on to what extent they believe that mankind is responsible for the changing climate. For ease of comprehension we have presented these figures below as a percentage of the entire population, rather than just as a percentage of those who think the climate is changing.

Overall, 25% of Britons think the human race is “entirely or almost entirely responsible” for the changing climate. They are joined by a further 32% who think human activity is responsible for “a large majority” of the change. Another 12% say humanity is responsible for “most” of the change”.

In the middle are 12% who think that human activity and other factors are about equally responsible. Only 4% think that climate change is taking place but is being driven primarily by factors other than human activity. A further 2% think that the climate is changing but are unsure how much is down to humanity.

While most Britons believe that climate change is taking place, and that human activity is responsible for a majority of this change, this varies between social groups.

Younger Britons are unsurprisingly more convinced that climate change is primarily down to humanity. Eight in ten say that the majority of the change is as a result of human activity (79%), compared to 59% of those aged 65 and above.

If we compare the combined results for “entirely/almost entirely” and “large majority” the difference is even more stark: 69% of 18-24 year olds versus 42% of those aged 65 and above.

Older Britons are notably more likely to say that other factors are equally as responsible for climate change as human activity, at 20% versus 4% of the youngest adults.

The generations are equally (un)likely to think the climate isn’t changing in the first place however, at 5-9%.

There is a much more noticeable difference on this attitude between Conservative and Labour voters, however. One in nine Conservative voters (11%) say the climate is not changing on this study’s question, compared to only 2% of Labour voters.

Nevertheless, the belief that humankind is the main driver of climate change is still the primary view among voters for both parties – 65% among the Conservatives and 84% among Labour voters.

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