UK concern over climate change remains high but few understand or have heard of 'net zero' survey finds
Climate change remains a major concern among the majority of the British public, but 'net zero' has so far failed to catch on as a widely-understood concept despite the UK's recently adopted 2050 target, findings from the government's latest green public attitudes survey today indicate.
The government interviewed more than 1,850 people in March for its regular Public Attitudes Tracker survey, which found over a third of respondents were 'very' concerned about climate change, with more than three quarters either 'very' or 'fairly' concerned.
The results, which were recorded as the coronavirus pandemic escalated, marks a slight decline from the same period last year, when the number of respondents either 'very' or 'fairly' concerned about climate change reached an all-time peak of 80 per cent overall.
However, the latest results revealed a sharp increase in the proportion of people who believe climate change is currently having a major impact on the UK. A quarter of respondents in the latest survey said they thought climate change was affecting people in the UK as a whole 'a great deal', while 53 per cent said it was having an affect 'to some extent', compared to 14 per cent and 59 per cent respectively in March 2019.
The survey also reveals that concern over climate change is yet to translate into a widespread understanding of how to combat it. Despite the UK having become the first major economy in the world to set in law a target to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the survey suggests there is limited understanding among most of the British public of what 'net zero' actually means.
Marking the first time the question has been asked in the survey, the proportion of people who had any awareness of 'net zero' stood at 35 per cent, while the majority - 64 per cent - said they have not heard of it. Just three per cent said they knew 'a lot' about net zero, nine per cent knew 'a fair amount', and 10 per cent had only heard about it.
The government describes net zero as meaning "that the UK's total greenhouse gas emissions would be equal to or less than the emissions the UK removed from the environment" - a goal which can be achieved "by a combination of emissions reduction and emissions removal".
Elsewhere in the survey, respondents were quizzed on a variety of green technologies and fossil fuel energy sources, revealing that awareness of carbon capture and storage (CCS) has reached its highest peak in the surveys hitting 46 per cent, while smart meter awareness also hit an all-time high of 89 per cent.
Previous Public Attitudes Surveys - which have been carried out regularly since 2012 - have consistently shown high levels of public support for renewable energy technologies, and the latest is no different, revealing overall levels of support at 82 per cent.
Support for nuclear, meanwhile, continued a downward trend to reach its lowest ever level at 32 per cent in the latest survey, which also found the highest ever levels of opposition to shale gas fracking at 45 per cent, with 48 per cent neither in support nor opposition.
The most common actions taken by respondents to cut their carbon impact were avoiding of minimising food waste, which is a focus for 54 per cent of respondents; minimising energy use at home, which 51 per cent embrace; and choosing to walk, cycle or take public transport instead of using a car which is a common practice for 46 per cent of those surveyed.
Only six per cent said their drove an electric car, but half of those that did said they did so mainly to help limit climate change, while 40 per cent cited 'other reasons', according to the survey.
Moreover, among those taking actions which reduce their personal carbon footprint, the latest survey points to "striking" shifts, with more people citing climate change as reasons for eating less meat and dairy, thinking about the energy efficiency of products they buy, and curbing the number of flights they take.
"In particular, the proportion of people reducing air travel who say this is related to climate change increased from 28 per cent in March 2019 to 42 per cent in March 2020," the survey results state. "This may be related to coronavirus, with many international flights already being disrupted in the early part of March 2020."
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