The survey, commissioned by new not-for-profit organisation the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), shows a perceived lack of consensus among climate scientists, despite scientists being one of the most trusted groups in society.

Nearly half (47%) of the UK population think that most climate scientists reject the idea that human activities such as fossil fuel burning are the main driver of climate change, or that scientists are evenly split on the issue.

However, several recent studies show that more than 90% of climate scientists agree that the main cause of climate change is human activity.

Clear message

The ECIU’s director Richard Black said: “These are important findings given that the UK has crucial decisions to make on our response to climate change and our energy system in the next few years.

“As a nation we can only make sensible choices if we’re properly informed, so it’s vital that people are aware of what the evidence is and that it’s communicated clearly.

“The breakdown between the views of scientists and the public on climate change is a particular concern. This feels reminiscent of the situation around MMR where most Britons thought the medical profession was split on the safety of the vaccine whereas doctors were virtually unanimous that it was safe.”

Another misunderstanding revealed in the survey relates to the British public’s preferences for different forms of energy. Only 5% of Britons know that renewables such as solar and wind are supported by a significant majority (about 80 percent) of the UK population. Two-thirds (63%) estimate support at under 50%.

Bridging the gap

The ECIU has been set up to support informed debate and evidence-based communication in the fields of energy and climate change. A central part of its work will be to provide clear, accessible, up-to-date and expert-reviewed briefings on key topics. Its Advisory Board includes climate scientists, energy policy experts and economists, as well as a range of other stakeholders including MPs and Peers.

ECIU Advisory Board member Dr Emily Shuckburgh said: “The scientific evidence that man-made climate change is real and presents significant risks is incredibly robust. But that doesn¹t always come across to the public, as the ECIU survey shows.

“In my view, it¹s vital that we bridge that gap, so that people are able to separate fact from fiction, enabling society as a whole to make informed decisions about our future.”

ComRes interviewed 2,021 GB adults online between 1-3 August 2014.

Luke Nicholls

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