The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference—also known as COP26—is taking place in Glasgow this November, with Alok Sharma serving as its President. Boris Johnson’s Government has released a 10-point plan to address climate change which includes such initiatives as promoting wind, nuclear, and hydrogen energy sources, supporting the electric vehicle industry, and encouraging alternative transportation methods to driving.

Research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies finds that 47% of the British public say they approve of the current UK Government’s efforts to address climate change. 33% neither approve nor disapprove, while 14% disapprove.    

18-to-24-year-olds are the most likely to disapprove of the Government’s efforts to address climate change, at 25%, whereas 35-to-44-year-olds are most likely to approve (53%). A fifth (19%) of 2019 Labour voters disapprove, though a plurality of 47% approve—compared to 60% of 2019 Conservative voters who approve of the Government’s efforts. 

Britons are divided on how the UK compares to the rest of Europe with respect to its measures to protect the environment: 30% say the UK is just as environmentally friendly as other European countries, 25% say the UK is more environmentally friendly, and 22% say the UK is less environmentally friendly. Meanwhile, a further 23% don’t know.

How the UK compares to its European counterparts may become clearer at COP26, where world leaders will come together to discuss actions towards combatting climate change. Even so, though the conference is being held in the UK, 80% of the British public say they have not heard of COP26, indicating that the conference suffers from a significant lack of publicity.

The UN Conference is set to be ‘the most significant UN climate summit since 2015, when the Paris Agreement was negotiated,’ with a Foreign Affairs Committee report warning that it may be ‘impossible’ to prevent further increases in the Earth’s temperature if the summit fails. Some argue that radical—and potentially costly—action may be necessary to reverse or slow the pace of climate change. Much of the British public appears to accept this: half (51%) of respondents say that protecting the environment should be given priority, even if it is detrimental to the economy.

Support for prioritising the environment is particularly heightened among 2019 Labour voters (61%), though a plurality (47%) of Conservative voters say the same. Meanwhile, a quarter (27%) of Britons believe protecting the environment should not be given priority over the economy.

That being said, the British public is less enthusiastic about personally paying for environmental initiatives through taxes: 36% of respondents say they would support personally paying more in taxes to fund environmental initiatives, 30% would oppose, and 29% would neither support nor oppose.

Once again, 2019 Labour voters (47%) are more likely than 2019 Conservative voters (32%) to support such a measure, as are 18-to-24-year-olds (51%).

In our latest poll, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies also asked Britons whether they would support or oppose a variety of specific climate initiatives—some that have already been introduced in the UK and some that have been proposed as potential policies to fight climate change.

We find that a majority (58%) of respondents support the Government’s £2,500 subsidy on new electric cars priced under £35,000. Just 9% of Britons oppose the subsidy, whereas a quarter (26%) neither support nor oppose it.

A majority of all age groups support the £2,500 subsidy on electric cars, ranging from 52% of those 65 and over to 65% of 25-to-34-year-olds. A similar proportion of 2019 Conservative (63%) and Labour (65%) voters support the Government’s incentive programme. Car-owners (63%) are also more likely to support the subsidy than those who do not own a car (46%).

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has expressed support for both nuclear and wind power being used in the UK, both of which have been presented as key energy alternatives. However, the British public is not overly supportive of nuclear power, with 34% saying they would oppose and 31% saying they would support more nuclear power stations being built in the UK.

Furthermore, the proportion of the British public that would support a nuclear power station being built in their local area is ten points lower, at 21%. Half (49%) of respondents say they would oppose a nuclear power station being built in their local area, showing that opposition to nuclear power stations is even stronger when they are proposed closer to home.

While a plurality of 18-to-24-year-olds (42%) say they would support more nuclear power stations being built in the UK, a plurality (39%) also says they would oppose a station being built in their local area. In fact, a plurality or majority of all age groups are opposed to nuclear power stations being built in their local area.

Opposition among 2019 Labour voters to nuclear power stations being built in the UK (37%) and in respondents’ local areas (55%) is higher than among 2019 Conservative voters (30% and 46%, respectively).

By contrast, there is substantially more support for a different renewable energy source: two-thirds (67%) of Britons would support more windfarms being built in the UK, whereas just 9% would oppose. 60% would also support more windfarms being built in their local area, though opposition does increase slightly to 14%. 

A majority of all age groups say they would support more windfarms being built in the UK and in their local area with the exception of 18-to-24-year-olds, just under half (48%) of whom say they would support windfarms being built in their local area. 45-to-54-year-olds are most in favour of more windfarms being built in the UK (72%) and in their local area (65%).

2019 Conservative (71%) and Labour (72%) voters are similarly supportive of more windfarms being built in the UK, though Labour voters (67%) are slightly more likely to support them being built in their areas than Conservative voters (61%).

Another energy-related proposal for fighting climate change is to nationalise the UK’s energy networks, which the Labour Party promoted during the 2019 Election, arguing that profits could be used to fund green infrastructure projects. A plurality (47%) of respondents would support the nationalisation of Britain’s energy networks, 31% would neither support nor oppose, and 11% would oppose it.

A majority (55%) of 2019 Labour voters would support nationalising Britain’s energy networks, compared to an also significant 45% of Conservative voters. A plurality or majority of all age groups are in favour too, demonstrating that the nationalisation of Britain’s energy networks would have widespread support across the British public.

Beyond our energy sources, our eating habits—particularly surrounding meat—have also been identified as an area that is contributing to global climate change. Indeed, a recent poll conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies found that 55% of vegans said the environment was their main reason for adopting a vegan diet. However, the plurality (40%) of the British public say they would oppose a ‘meat tax’ to dissuade the consumption of meat in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a move which the current Government recently rejected. Still, a third (32%) would support such a tax and 23% would neither support nor oppose it.

A plurality of 18-to-24-year-olds (40%) and 25-to-34-year-olds (42%)—the age groups that our polling found to have the highest rates of veganism and vegetarianism—say they would support a tax on meat. Meanwhile, half (50%) of those aged 65 and over would be opposed to taxing meat to dissuade its consumption. The idea has considerably more support among 2019 Labour voters (43%) than among 2019 Conservative voters (26%).

Though a ‘meat tax’ is not widely embraced by the British public, 44% would support a ban on factory farms, even if it meant a significant increase in the price of meat. Alternatively, a quarter of respondents would oppose (25%) or neither support nor oppose (25%) a ban on factory farms.

Support for this environmental initiative is once again highest among 25-to-34-year-olds (48%) and has slightly more support from Labour voters (49%) than from Conservative voters (43%).

Lastly, given the extensive environmental impact of airplanes, the UK Government has considered imposing a ‘frequent flyer tax,’ whereby for every flight a person takes, the amount of tax they pay on their next flight increases. Our polling finds that 44% of Britons would support a ‘frequent flyer tax,’ including 53% of Labour voters and 47% of Conservative voters. 27% of Britons would oppose a tax on frequent flyers, a figure which increases to 34% for 18-to-24-year-olds.

There are numerous environmental policies that the UK Government has proposed and could implement to combat climate change. Our research reveals that the British public is largely supportive of windfarms as a renewable energy source and many would also support nationalising the UK’s energy networks, though far fewer respondents are in favour of nuclear power. Many Britons support the Government’s subsidy on electric cars and would support a ban on factory farms and a ‘frequent flyer tax,’ while the idea of an overall ‘meat tax’ garners greater opposition. Altogether, almost half of the public approves of the current UK Government’s efforts to address climate change, which will be further tested at the UN Climate Change Conference in November.  

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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