The environment is once again a top three priority for the British public

Beth MannJunior Research Executive
June 04, 2021, 11:23 AM UTC

British adults are consistently ranking the environment as one of their top three ‘most important issues facing the country today ahead of Brexit, immigration, crime, and many others

Each week, we ask Britons their opinion on the most important issues facing the country at that point in time.

While issues surrounding the environment have been picked as among the most important by around 20-30% of the public for the past two years, the start of the pandemic saw the environment drop out of the top three issues of public concern. The top two issues since early 2020 have been the economy and health, with Brexit previously completing the top three.

Concerns about the economy and health are on a slow decline as the end of the pandemic in the UK appears to draw nearer, and, with the Brexit transition period over, the environment has now moved up into a clear third position in terms of what the public think the priorities should be for the British government.

Over the last six weeks, around 30% of Britons have consistently placed the environment in the top three most important issues facing the country. This compares to around 25% for both ‘immigration and asylum’ and ‘Britain leaving the EU’. Concern about green issues has been growing since the turn of the year.

While there are no notable gender differences, results suggest that a higher proportion of younger generations place higher importance on the issue. Over 40% of 18-24s place it in their top three, but this incrementally reduces through the age groups, with 25-49s and 50-64s hovering around 30%, before falling to roughly 25% of those aged 65 and over.

We also witness differences between 2019 Labour and Conservative voters. A higher proportion of Labour voters consistently place the environment in their top three (between 40-45% over the last few weeks), compared to a much lower proportion of Conservative voters (between 20-25%).

Is the environment here to stay as a top issue?

Immediately prior to the pandemic, the environment had a run of 19 weeks as the third biggest concern for Britons overall. Now that concerns in other major areas are declining, does this provide the potential for the environment to stay as a top issue in public minds?

There are a few reasons to think that this may be the case. For instance, 2021 marks the year the UK is hosting the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (also known as COP26). Domestic and international media coverage of the event may work to keep the environment fresh in the public’s minds.

We also have an increasingly electorally successful Green Party. This may well push other parties such as Labour and the Conservatives to ramp up their conversations and policy offerings around green issues.

Finally, extreme weather patterns and conditions are becoming more and more common, coupled with increasingly urgent calls from scientists demanding action on climate change, as governments struggle to meet emissions targets. These factors give us plenty of reason to think that the environment could stay toward the top of public minds for some time to come.