What people REALLY think about climate change – and what they want policymakers to do about it

A new global poll of 1.2 million respondents has given us a detailed picture of public opinion on climate change.

The Peoples’ Climate Vote was launched by the United Nations Development Programme, and is the largest survey of public opinion on climate change ever conducted. Results span 50 countries, covering 56% of the world’s population, and cover people of all genders, ages, and educational backgrounds.

Its goal, put simply, is to connect the public to policymakers –providing the latter with reliable information on whether people considered climate change an emergency, and how they would like their countries to respond. A key factor for countries raising levels of climate ambition is popular support for policies that address climate change – so this survey matters.

In the vote, people were asked about their belief in the climate emergency and which policies, across six areas – energy, economy, transportation, farms and food, protecting people, and nature – that they would like their government to enact.

So, what can UK business and policymakers learn about what UK citizens want, and can it help inform corporate sustainability strategies? Here are some of the takeaways:

  • 81% of UK respondents believe climate change is a global emergency.

Of all the countries surveyed, belief in the climate emergency was led by the UK (81%). It’s much higher than the global total: 64% of all respondents surveyed across the 50 countries shared this belief.

Four climate policies emerged as the most popular globally: conservation of forests and land (which had 54% public support); solar, wind and renewable power (53%); climate-friendly farming techniques (52%); and investing more in green businesses and jobs (50%).

  • The UK strongly backs clean transport policies.

Respondents were asked how they would like their country to address climate change in the transportation sector, including by switching to clean electric cars and buses, or bicycles.

The survey showed majorities for clean transportation in all of the top ten most urbanized countries in the survey, apart from Jordan, including the United Kingdom (73%), Canada (67%) and Australia (66%), Chile (58%), Japan (57%), United States, (56%), Sweden (55%), Argentina (52%), Brazil (51%).

  • UK citizens want more investment in green businesses and jobs.

There was majority support in nearly all G20 countries polled for more investment in green businesses and jobs, led by the United Kingdom (73%), followed by Germany, Australia and Canada (all 68%).

  • Companies should pay for pollution, say UK respondents.

This policy had high support in seven of the twelve high-income countries surveyed, with the United Kingdom leading the way at 72%.

  • The UK shows the strongest support for clean oceans and waterways

The largest difference in the level of support between two countries for a climate policy in the survey was keeping the ocean and waterways healthy. Support for this policy was 81% in the United Kingdom, compared with 29% in Iraq, a huge difference of 52 percentage points. This highlighted the importance of nation-specific factors – here, being surrounded by water versus almost land-locked – in guiding public opinion on some policies.

  • Food waste is considered more important than energy waste – but both are important, say UK citizens

Reducing food waste and wasting less energy in buildings are both important climate policies – but food waste was considered more important by respondents. Food waste policies received particular support in several high-income countries, notably the United Kingdom (77%), Germany (74%), Canada (73%), Australia, and Japan (both 72%).

Wasting less energy was less popular overall, even though energy efficiency measures are cost-effective and can create green jobs. Nevertheless, it commanded a solid majority in a number of countries including the UK (68%).

  • The majority of people aren’t (yet) on board with policies on plant-based diets.

The promotion of plant-based diets struggled to get majority support in any of the countries surveyed. Overall, just 30% of people surveyed supported the promotion of plant-based diets as a climate policy. This might be explained by a number of different factors. First, in some countries, there are few plant-based options. In others, there may not yet be significant awareness about these options. In others, people may have felt that diet is more of a personal choice than something that can be “promoted”.

  • Young people care more about climate change… but don’t ignore older groups

Young people (under 18) are more likely to believe climate change is a global emergency than other age groups, but a substantial majority of older people still agreed with them. Nearly 70% of under-18s said that climate change is a global emergency, compared to 65% of those aged 18-35, 66% aged 36-59 and 58% of those aged over 60.