COVID-19 has not kicked environmental issues into the long grass

Sam FitzPatrickPolitical researcher
July 07, 2020, 1:05 PM UTC

Despite the global pandemic, Brits still view protecting the environment as a top priority for the country, and think the Government is not doing enough despite today’s £3bn announcement

The coronavirus crisis has put a great many things on hold, but Brits have not forgotten about the challenges faced by climate change. Today the Government announced a proposal for £3bn in funding for environmental projects, which critics instantly compared unfavourably with a similar plan in Germany for £36bn of spending.

Currently, a quarter of Brits (24%) say the environment is one of the most important issue facing the country, ranking fourth below the economy (57%), health (57%) and Britain leaving the EU (43%).

Although the environment was seen as a more important issue prior to the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March (33%), it has remained around the same level as it was roughly a year ago. Additionally, it is significantly higher now compared to previous years; the percentage of people in 2018 ranking the environment as a top issue never rose higher than 18%, and in 2017 it ranked lower than 10% more often than it did above.

Around a third of Brits (31%) think the UK Government should increase spending to protect the environment. Other issues that Brits want the Government to invest in more are the NHS (79%), education and schools (41%) and crime and policing (38%).

Although the percentage of Brits believing the UK Government should spend more on the environment has fallen slightly from 35% just prior to the start of lockdown, over the same time the public have become increasingly likely to think spending is insufficient to reduce carbon emissions. Over half of Brits (53%) now think Government investment is not enough to tackle climate change, up from 47% in early March.

In the same period, those thinking the Government is spending too much on climate change has dropped five percentage points from 14% to 9%.

Regardless of public priorities, climate change is now overwhelmingly seen as man-made; with most (75%) believing it exists as a result of human activity. This has increased by a huge amount in the last half-decade or so, rising by 17 percentage points from 58% in March 2014. Interestingly, there has been a slight change over the coronavirus pandemic, as 69% thought the environment was impacted due to human activity before the lockdown began, six percentage points lower than the current figure.

Climate scepticism is increasingly a fringe opinion. Only 13% believe climate change is independent of human behaviour, and just 2% believe the climate isn’t actually changing.

Environmental issues are important to Britons, but we increasingly do not see the UK as a world leader in the fight against climate change. While 41% thought Britain was doing more than most other countries to combat carbon emissions in July of last year, this figure has fallen 11 percentage points to just 30% since. In this same period, the percentage of the public that think Britain is doing about the same as most other countries has risen to 27% from 22%, and those that think the country is doing less than most other countries has risen from 14% to 17%.

At a time when two thirds of Brits (67%) think the threat of climate change is every bit as real as scientists say, it is reasonable to expect that the environment will remain a top issue for many people in the foreseeable future.

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