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Survey reveals UK pessimistic about international action on climate change

11 December 2017 | Tags: European Social Survey, climate change

More than half of people in the UK think it is unlikely enough governments will take action to reduce climate change, according to a new study of 18 European countries published today.

New analysis by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) of the European Social Survey shows that 7 in 10 Brits are concerned about climate change, including 24% who are “very” or “extremely” worried. However, despite high levels of concern, 52% of people in the UK are sceptical that enough governments will act to reverse climate change.

Germans most concerned about climate change

When it comes to concern about climate change, Britain falls somewhere in the middle of the 18 European countries examined in the report ‘Climate concern and pessimism: Examining public attitudes across Europe’.

Highest levels of concern are among people in Germany, with 86% saying they are worried. The countries with the smallest proportions of people worried about climate change are Israel (53%) and the Czech Republic (54%).

Germans are also the most likely to be pessimistic that there will be sufficient global action; 66% said they thought it was unlikely that enough governments will take action on climate change. They are followed Switzerland, Slovenia, Austria and France. This news comes as French President Emmanuel Macron prepares to hold a Climate Change summit on December 12th, two years after the signing of the Paris Agreement.

Very few Europeans are climate deniers

Across the countries analysed, only a very small proportion of people are climate change deniers. The highest proportion of people who do not believe climate change is happening are in Russia (15%), Israel (8%) and the Czech Republic (5%). Just 2% of people in the UK say they think climate change is not happening.

Politics watchers and lefties most worried about climate change

As well as analysing how attitudes towards climate change vary between countries, the report also considers patterns across all 18 countries examined. The report reveals two clear divides along political lines, highlighting the challenges for climate change campaigners and politicians alike:

  • Interest in politics: People with a greater interest in politics were much more likely to be concerned about climate change than those with little or no interest in politics. Almost 4 in 10 (39%) people who are “very interested” in politics say they are very or extremely worried about climate change, double the proportion (17%) of those who are not interested in politics at all.
  • Left-wing concern: Concern about climate change was significantly higher among those who see themselves as being on the left of the political spectrum. 38% of left-leaning people said they were very or extremely worried about climate change, compared to 21% of those on the right.

The analysis found no significant variation in concern about climate change according to age, income or level of education at a Europe-wide level, although this masks a lot of variation at a country-level.

Roger Harding, report co-author and Head of Public Attitudes at the National Centre for Social Research said: “Tackling climate change requires a major international effort so it’s concerning that so many people doubt that this will happen. To make personal sacrifices to stop climate change people will need more reassurance that others will join them.      

“We now know that just 2% of Brits are climate change deniers. Public attitudes and scientific evidence now point to there being little reason for any broadcaster to give climate deniers a regular platform.”   

Leo Barasi, report co-author and climate change author said: “While few now deny the reality of climate change, it’s worrying that so many people still seem relaxed about it. Across Europe, as many as half the public say they are only somewhat worried about climate change. Unless this climate apathy is tackled, governments won't be able to prevent dangerous warming.

“People who want action on climate change need to get better at talking to those who aren’t left-wing or interested in politics. Solutions to climate change need support from across society – they won’t succeed if the subject is seen as a partisan concern.”


For more information or a copy of the report please contact Kirsty O'Driscoll: Kirsty.O' 0207 549 8506 or Sophie Brown: 0207 549 9550

Notes to Editors

The National Centre for Social Research is an independent, not for profit organisation. We believe that social research has the power to make life better. By really understanding the complexity of people’s lives and what they think about the issues that affect them, we give the public a powerful and influential role in shaping decisions and services that can make a difference to everyone

The European Social Survey is a cross-national face-to-face survey conducted across Europe every two years since 2001. Every two years, face-to-face interviews are conducted with newly selected, cross-sectional samples. 

Report co-author, Leo Barasi is an independent researcher and author of the recent climate change book The Climate Majority: Apathy and Action in an Age of Nationalism

Figure 1: Worry over climate change by left-right affiliation