Seven in 10 Brits don’t believe UK will reach 2050 net-zero target

Research found that eight in 10 Britons are worried about climate change.

This runs contrary to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s assertions on Wednesday (20 September) that the UK is exceeding its climate targets and that most of the general public will appreciate this.

The finding is one of many included in the latest Public Attitudes Tracker from the Department for Energy Security and Net-Zero (DESNZ). Published quarterly, these reports detail the findings of surveys of thousands of people in a sample representative of the UK in terms of age, location and climate-related views.

The latest polls were carried out this summer (9 June to 10 July) and took in 4,003 people.

Of these people, 45% said they were ‘not very confident’ that the UK will reach its 2050 climate target. A further 26% were ‘not at all confident’.

Overall, less than one-fifth (17%) of those polled said they are confident.

Confidence was weaker among those educated to degree level or higher.

The Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) latest report to Parliament on the net-zero transition concluded that progress, in the main, has been “worryingly slow”. This has particularly been the case with moving the dial on emissions from heavy industry and buildings.

According to the CCC, the UK only had ‘credible plans’ for delivering 25% of the required emissions reductions moving forward as of May. It has warned that policy rollbacks announced by Sunak this week are likely to increase this gap.

Sunak argued in a speech on Tuesday that the UK has already exceeded targets set under previous carbon budgets and is decarbonising more rapidly than any other wealthy nation.

UN climate chief Simon Steill countered: “No G7 Country has yet ‘over delivered’ on climate. On the contrary, there is a lot more action needed, specifically from them. Is turning away from climate action in 2023 really leadership?”

Sunak’s speech may change the opinions recorded above. But it bears noting that the Public Attitudes Tracker also revealed that half (47%) of Brits tend not to trust climate-related information provided by the Government.

Perceived costs

DESNZ’s polls have revealed consistently, since their inception in 2021, that there is a high level of climate-related concern among the general public.

This time around, 82% of people said they were either ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ concerned about climate change. The proportion of people who are not concerned has increased slightly, from 14% in autumn 2021 to 17% in this edition. 2% of people said they do not think climate change exists.

The poll did reveal that, as Sunak said, most people perceive taking climate action will increase the cost-of-living for the majority.

Seven in ten believe that the UK’s transition to net-zero will increase their regular expenses in the next year or two. Five in ten believe costs will still be higher in ten years or more.

Only one-quarter said they believe the cost-of-living will decrease in the long-term (10 or more years) due to the decarbonisation of the economy.

The older someone is, the polls found, the more likely they are to perceive net-zero as a personal cost burden now and in the future.

Looking at the behaviours people have already taken to reduce the climate impact of their daily lives, it is clear that the money-saving options are the most popular.

37% say they are using public transport instead of their car, up from 34% last summer.

Half said they have replaced some car trips with walking and cycling. Only 10% said they have switched to an electric or hybrid car.

A far greater proportion of people are minimising food waste (77%), recycling household waste (85%) and reducing energy use in the home (80%). Levels of interest in reducing home energy use and choosing energy-efficient appliances have remained consistent with those recorded in summer 2022.

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