How far do Britons actually want to prioritise climate change spending?

Sarah Prescott-SmithSenior Research Executive
Patrick EnglishResearch Manager
November 08, 2021, 10:13 AM UTC

Most would rather prioritise spending on health and the economy, among other things

With COP-26 in full swing, the public can expect to see spending commitments for climate change measures coming thick and fast. Boris Johnson has declared that it is “one minute to midnight on that doomsday clock and we need to act now” in order to avert climate catastrophe. YouGov polling in late August suggested that Britons tended to support prioritising climate change spending, even if it meant cuts elsewhere in the public domain.

But are Britons willing to offer up their sacred cows for the sake of saving the environment? An updated YouGov survey went further, pairing off policy areas against the environment and asking people to say which they would prioritise for public spending.

Britons overwhelmingly think that investment into health should be prioritised over the environment (67% to 24%), and also that a majority believe the government should focus investment into the economy over the environment (55% to 39%).

This is perhaps unsurprising, given that both came out ahead of the environment in a question on the same poll asking Britons what they think are the top issues facing the country over the next five years. The economy was chosen by 47%, health by 39% and the environment placed third on 35%.

Despite just 10% picking education as one of the most important issues facing Britain over the next five years, about as many Britons feel it more worthy of government investment than green matters, with 47% choosing it vs 44% for the environment.

Similarly, while 15% said that crime was a top issue over the next five years, 49% believed it should be prioritised over the environment when it comes to government spending (44% favour environment spending). There is a large divide between Conservative and Labour voters here, with 72% of Conservative voters favouring investing in tackling crime over the environment, compared to just 28% of Labour voters.

Environment funding does take strong precedence over many other policy areas, however. Britons are most likely to favour it over immigration and asylum matters (by 56% to 33%), transport (by 57% to 35%) and defence and security (by 55% to 34%). However, there is a divide along party lines, with more Conservative voters being more likely to think that investment into all three issues should be prioritised over the environment, whilst Labour voters are more likely to favour the environment in each case.

When it comes to pensions spending, there is again a narrow lead for prioritising the environment, at 49% vs 43%, and an even higher lead for climate change funding when set against family life and childcare policies (54% vs 38%).

Britons in the 25-49 year old age group, who are most likely to have children at home, are willing to put the environment first compared to family and childcare funding by 55% to 38%. They take an almost identical attitude when it comes to pensions, saying they would prioritise climate change money by 55% to 36% in this case.

Retirement-age Britons (those aged 65+), however, would rather see pensions spending prioritised over the environment, by 56% to 42%. They are, however, happy to see the environment take precedent over family life and childcare funding, by 51% to 44%.

See the full results here