Public attitudes to net zero and climate change are evolving

Every three months the UK government publishes a report about public awareness and behaviour towards climate change and net zero policy.

The latest statistics include some interesting nuggets about changing attitudes among key age groups and demographics. Here are four key trends:

1. More people think the media exaggerates the impacts of climate change compared with the year before

Survey participants are asked whether they agree with the statement ‘the media exaggerates the impacts of climate change’. Although more people still disagree (39%) than agree (32%), the number who agree has risen slightly from the previous year.

A separate study published in November 2023 found similar results, spotlighting the UK’s position in relation to eight other countries. The research revealed that trust in the news media as a source of news and information about climate change declined in the UK (along with Germany) between 2022 and 2023. In other countries trust levels were stable while in India trust increased.

2. Belief that the media exaggerates climate change varies by age, but it is increasing among both older and younger age groups

The UK survey indicates that views on media portrayals of climate change differ by age and gender. Over 55s are most likely to agree that the media exaggerates the impact of climate change. In the past year, agreement with the statement rose from 34% to 38% among 55 to 64 year olds and from 38% to 42% among over 65s.

Far fewer young people agree that the media exaggerates the impact of climate change. But just like the over 55s, it’s a belief that’s growing.

3. Men and women think and behave differently when it comes to climate change

While 93% of men are aware of the concept of ‘net zero’, just 78% expressed concern about climate change. In contrast, women showed a lower awareness of ‘net zero’ at 85%, but a higher rate of concern about climate change (85%).

Another study drawing international comparisons reveals that the climate concern gap between men and women tends to be a phenomenon in wealthier countries.

Overall, most people recognise that climate change is a threat, but people in richer countries rate climate change as a less serious problem than in poorer countries. This is particularly true of men in wealthier countries, compared to women in the same country.

The highlighted countries in the chart clearly demonstrate this. While the gap between men and women in the UK is smaller than in the US, in India there’s barely a gap at all.

Returning to the UK again, this gender gap is especially pronounced when focusing on household actions. Women tend to adopt more climate-friendly practices at home than men. For example, 81% of women report actively minimising food waste compared to 73% of men.

4. Men displayed less confidence that the UK will meet its net zero target, compared to women

Men are more likely to be not at all confident about the UK meeting its net zero target. At the same time, they are more likely than women to anticipate a negative economic impact from the UK’s transition to net zero, both in the short and long term.

The expected impact of the UK’s transition to net zero on regular living expenses is considerably more negative than the expected impact on the UK economy as a whole. While 37% of people think the impact of a net zero transition on the economy will be negative in the short term, as many as 69% believe the transition will negatively impact their living expenses.

Men and women are more similar in their views here. Instead, greater differences exist between age groups – particularly in the long term. People aged 55 and over were more likely to expect an increase in the cost of living in the long term (55% of those aged 55 to 64 and 56% of those aged 65 and over) compared with those in all other age groups, particularly people aged under 25 (37%).

The UK public's attitudes towards climate change is evolving

The growth in the perception that the media exaggerates the impact of climate change is clearly concerning, as it’s likely to reduce the sense of urgency people feel towards taking action to combat it. The demographic differences revealed here also indicate that effective communication strategies and policymaking should be targeted and tailored to different segments of the population.

Author

Lauren Orso

Lauren Orso

Lauren Orso

Group Data Journalist

Lauren is a data journalist who researches, produces, and publishes data stories.

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