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In recent months, the Government has made the environment a major focus of its domestic policy programme. In January 2018, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, gave the first domestic prime ministerial speech on the environment in 14 years, as she launched the Government’s 25-year environment plan.

Although the majority of the new government policy announcements on the environment have related to plastic pollution and animal welfare, there have been several new policies on climate change. The Government has recently launched the Clean Growth Strategy for meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, established the Powering Past Coal alliance with Canada to end the use of unabated coal power, and announced £140 million of new aid spending to help poorer countries that are affected by climate change.

This new political focus on the environment was partly informed by previous Bright Blue polling on the attitudes of younger voters, a group of voters among whom the Conservative Party performed poorly at the last election and to whom they need to appeal in order to regain their parliamentary majority. Our research, published in September 2017, found that climate change is the top issue 18-28 year olds want to hear senior politicians discuss more and the second top issue for under 40s after health. It also found that 83% of under 40s would be proud of voting for a party that adopted the policy of generating more electricity from renewables like wind and solar, the most popular of the nine policies we tested that are commonly associated with younger voters. Previous Bright Blue research found that most Conservative voters are concerned about the impacts of climate change and support various policies to address it.

The aim of this new polling analysis is to better understand public attitudes to climate change, ten years since the UK’s world-leading Climate Change Act 2008 was passed, in order to assess the appropriateness of the UK’s current climate change targets and to inform future policymaking about climate change. This analysis will feed in to Bright Blue’s forthcoming research report on strengthening the Climate Change Act. Our previous research into the political attitudes of younger voters unearthed the salience of climate change relative to other issues that are commonly associated with younger voters. In particular, this research will analyse the attitudes of younger voters towards action on climate change in greater detail.


Polling was undertaken by Opinium through online interviews and conducted between 28th February and 5th March, 2018. It consisted of one large nationally representative sample of 4,007 UK adults. From this overall sample, we also produced two subsets, each individually weighted. The first was a sample of 1,422 British adults who were Conservative voters in the 2017 General Election. The second was a sample of 1,508 UK adults aged under 40. Each data set (the overall sample and the two subsets) was individually weighted in terms of age, gender, and region to reflect a nationally representative audience. These data sets enabled us to achieve two goals.

First, we were able to quantify public attitudes towards climate change, particularly those of Conservative voters at the 2017 General Election (whom we will refer to as ‘Conservative voters’) and of UK adults under 40. Polling also enabled us to reveal their views on various statements of UK leadership and policies on climate change. We chose to focus on Conservative voters, as the current Government, on whose votes they rely, are unlikely to enact climate change policies that are unpopular with their supporters. We chose to focus on UK adults under 40 in particular, as the Conservative Party performed badly among this demographic at the last General Election and is interested in new policies that can increase their appeal with younger voters.

Second, our polling allowed us to analyse the views of UK adults, Conservative voters, and under 40s according to other socio-demographic characteristics including gender, age, socio-economic grade, EU Referendum vote, and others. This helped to reveal any underlying diversity of opinion within Conservative voters and under 40s.

Concern about climate change

In general, tackling climate change was a high environmental priority, while people are more concerned about it than they were ten years ago.

When ranking different long-term environment priorities for the Government to focus on, UK adults put climate change second to plastic waste and level with air quality. As Chart 1 illustrates, 34% of UK adults put stopping climate change among their top three environmental priorities. The high position of plastic waste is likely to be linked to the significant recent media and government focus on the issue, especially in BBC’s Blue Planet Two. Among under 40s, climate change is the second most popular priority, with 37% putting it in their top three – a slightly higher proportion than the general population. Notably, just 20% of UK adults (and the same proportion of under 40s) put animal welfare in their top three, despite the recent spate of government announcements on the issue.

A small majority of UK adults (51%) are either a lot more or a little more concerned (we will refer to these groups together as ‘more worried’) about climate change than they were ten years ago when the Climate Change Act 2008 was passed, as shown by Chart 2. Just 4% are either a lot less or a little less worried (overall ‘less worried’). Among under 40s, a slightly larger majority (57%) are more concerned about climate change than they were ten years ago.

Impacts of climate change

Most people believe weather is becoming more extreme as a result of climate change, while one of the most salient impacts of climate change, both domestically and internationally, is the potential harm to nature.

As illustrated by Chart 3, nearly two-thirds of UK adults (64%) agree that weather around the world is becoming more extreme because of climate change caused by humans. A higher proportion (72%) of under 40s agree. A slightly smaller majority of Conservative voters (54%) also agree.

We also tested public attitudes to different impacts of climate change.

In terms of domestic impacts of climate change, the top three impacts that UK adults want senior politicians to talk more about are: damage to homes from more flooding and stronger storms (35% put in their top three); loss of wildlife due to changing seasons and weather patterns (34%); and higher food prices from a lack of water and worse soil quality (34%). The impact the public are least interested in senior politicians talking more about is health effects, such as heatstroke, from more very hot days, which just 13% put in their top three. Interestingly, concern about health effects is highest in London, where 20% put it in their top three.

Among under 40s, the top three impacts they want to senior politicians to talk more about are: higher food prices from a lack of water and worse soil quality (35%); loss of wildlife due to changing seasons and weather patterns (33%); and damage to homes from more flooding and stronger storms (26%). Among Conservative voters, the top three domestic impacts they want to senior politicians to talk more about are: damage to homes from more flooding and stronger storms (37%); new diseases and invasive species from warmer temperatures (33%); and loss of wildlife due to changing seasons and weather patterns (31%).

Although many of the top three impacts are common to the three different groups, it is striking that, among under 40s, damage to homes is chosen by a smaller proportion than both the general population and Conservative voters. This might reflect the lower rates of homeownership among under 40s.

In terms of international climate change impacts, UK adults want senior politicians to talk more about the loss of natural environments like coral reefs and rainforests (44%), the loss of world wildlife like polar bears (35%), and food shortages from more extreme weather destroying crops (34%). Conservative voters and under 40s have the same top three impacts occurring in the same order.

It is interesting to note the salience of the nature-related impacts of climate change in both the domestic and international questions in the survey. This impact has been a significant focus of the recent popular BBC programme Blue Planet Two, which could have helped to increase people’s awareness.

Public priorities for decarbonisation

There is strong public support for several policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. We tested nine different climate change policies, which we chose as they are all commonly proposed (in some cases by Bright Blue) and easily understood approaches to tackling climate change. As Chart 4 depicts, the following six policies are supported by around two-thirds of UK adults or more: offering incentives to homeowners to insulate their properties (76% support this); increasing the use of renewable power like solar and wind farms (75%); regulating heavy industry so it has to reduce its emissions (74%); paying farmers to plant more trees (68%); making it easier for drivers to switch from petrol or diesel to electric cars (66%); and converting more homes to use low-carbon heat like heat pumps and hydrogen (65%).

The three least popular policies are: taxing all carbon emissions across the economy (41% support this); encouraging people to eat less meat (only 31% support this); and taxing travellers who take more than two flights each year (30%).

It is particularly interesting that, among Conservative voters, 72% support increasing the use of renewable power like solar and wind farms – the same proportion of under 40s who support it. Among Conservative voters who live in rural areas, support is similarly high (69%). Given the previously common assumption that renewable energy – particularly onshore wind – is unpopular among the Conservative Party’s rural voter base, this is a noteworthy finding.

Offering incentives for home insulation, which Bright Blue recommended in our report Better homes, is a very popular policy among Conservative voters, with 77% in support. There is similarly strong support among both Leave-voting Conservative voters (76%) and Remain-voting Conservative voters (80%).

Overall, these findings are somewhat unsurprising given the intuitive attraction to someone of benefiting from incentives over paying new taxes. However, one lesson for policymakers could be the importance of framing climate policies in terms of incentivising the adoption of new clean technologies that enable existing lifestyles to be maintained, rather than ‘penalising’ the use of existing carbon-intensive technologies.

The polling also found that people broadly share the Government’s recent priorities for tackling sources of greenhouse gas emissions. As demonstrated in Chart 5, the top four sources of emissions that UK adults think government should prioritise reducing are: waste (44% put in their top three); coal power stations (40%); petrol and diesel vehicles (38%); and heavy industry (35%). To date, the power sector, waste, and industry have seen the biggest falls in emissions, while the Government has introduced several new policies to stimulate the adoption of electric vehicles in the transport sector.

The three least popular sources of emissions for the Government to prioritise reducing are: ships (just 5% put in their top three); gas boilers (4%); and trains (4%). There is not much variation in the results for under 40s and Conservative voters.

The UK’s international leadership on tackling climate change

Most people support the UK demonstrating international leadership on tackling climate and see economic benefits from doing so.

As Chart 6 shows, 63% of UK adults agree that the UK should be a global leader in tackling climate change (66% of under 40s agree and 56% of Conservative voters); 64% agree the UK should aim to cut its carbon emissions to zero in the next few decades, so it doesn’t add any more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere (64% of under 40s agree and 58% of Conservative voters); and 61% agree that, by cutting its emissions, the UK will benefit economically by creating new low-carbon industries (65% of under 40s agree and 56% of Conservative voters).

Interestingly, our polling found that majorities of both Leave (57%) and Remain (74%) voters support the UK cutting its carbon emissions to zero in the next few decades. Similarly, majorities of both Leave (54%) and Remain (74%) voters agree that the UK should be a global climate leader. More ambitious climate change targets, therefore, are popular with both sides of the EU Referendum debate, but are particularly popular with Remain voters, as well as younger voters.

We also asked respondents how quickly the UK should cut its emissions relative to other countries. A large majority of UK adults (90%) believe the UK should cut its emissions at least as quickly as other countries. In fact, 38% say the UK should cut its emissions faster than other countries. Among Conservative voters, 91% believe the UK should cut its emissions at least as quickly as other countries, with 30% saying they should cut them faster than other countries. As seen in Chart 7, UK climate leadership is particularly popular among the under 40s, with nearly half (47%) saying that the UK should cut its emissions faster than other countries, which is the most common answer.


This polling analysis has shown that there is strong and growing public concern about climate change and a belief that it is causing more extreme weather around the world. We have found support for tackling greenhouse gas emissions from a range of sectors and sources, although there is scepticism about reducing emissions in the aviation and agricultural sectors through measures to reduce demand for polluting behaviours.

Crucially, the polling also revealed that there was significant support for the UK leading internationally on tackling climate change, for cutting its emissions to zero, and for capturing the economic benefits of more ambitious decarbonisation. Therefore, should the UK Government enshrine in law the Paris Agreement pledge to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions effectively to zero before the end of this century, it would have the backing of the majority of the UK public.

In general, we found that younger people tend to be more supportive of greater ambition on tackling climate change than the general population, as are Remain voters. Conservative voters tend to be marginally less supportive of tackling climate change than the general population, although there is still support among a majority of Conservative voters for more ambitious action on climate change. The Government could appeal to younger voters through more ambitious climate policies without trading off existing voters.

Sam Hall is Head of Research at Bright Blue


  • The full data tables for the general population can be found here, for the under 40s can be found here, and for Conservative voters can be found here
  • We gratefully acknowledge the support of the European Climate Foundation for this project
  • We are grateful to Opinium for advising on and carrying out the survey, and for their comments on our analysis