Climate change has risen up the agenda to be seen as one of the most important issues facing the UK, a study has found.
A wide-ranging survey led by Cardiff University shows that people now cite climate change as second only to Brexit as the most important issue facing the country in the next 20 years.
Some 23% said it was the most important issue, compared to a quarter who put Brexit top, while the economic situation in the UK finished a distant third cited by 10% of those quizzed in the October 2019 survey.
It shows a marked shift on a previous survey in early June 2016, when immigration was seen as the biggest issue facing the country and climate change came in 13th place, with just 2% naming it as the top problem.
The shift comes against a backdrop of extreme weather events in recent years, from flooding to 2018’s drought and heatwaves last year.
The survey of 1,401 nationally-representative adults also came following UK-wide protests by Extinction Rebellion, climate school strikers led by Greta Thunberg, and declarations of a climate emergency.
The survey was carried out by researchers from Cardiff University and Climate Outreach and results were compared to previous studies conducted in 2010, 2013 and 2016 to see how attitudes are changing.
The research found two-fifths of people (40%) are now very or extremely worried about climate change, double the 19% who showed high levels of concern in 2016.
And the issue feels less distant to people than it did – with almost two-thirds (64%) thinking that we are already feeling the effects of climate change, up from two fifths in a survey in 2010.
Professor Nick Pidgeon, from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology, who led the project, said: “This is a remarkable shift in British public opinion – the biggest change we’ve seen in recent years.
“With climate policy entering a critical phase, as the UK prepares to host the UN climate summit – and as many areas seek to recover from winter flooding – these survey results provide strong evidence of a shift in perceptions among the British public towards greater concern for climate risks and their impacts.
“Many people are beginning to worry and care enough to demand wide-ranging action from government on the climate crisis.”
Storms and flooding were seen as the highest risks for the UK, while concern over heatwaves has surged.
There was also strong support for measures that help the UK adapt to climate change, such as spending public money on flood defences.
Subsidising renewable energy and improving public transport were the most popular measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions, while increasing the price of energy to cut consumption was unpopular, with almost half (48%) opposing it.
The Government’s recent commitment to cut emission to net zero by 2050, which became law last year, is supported by three-quarters (76%) of those questioned for the survey and only opposed by 6%.
There is the same level of support for the international Paris Agreement on tackling climate change, while two-thirds of people (66%) backed economic penalties for countries which refuse to be part of the deal.