Many arguments have been made regarding how combatting climate change may impact the economy in the UK and around the world, with opposing sides suggesting the economic impact will be either positive or negative. At Redfield & Wilton Strategies, we recently asked the British public to weigh in on the issue, and found that a plurality (42%) of the British public believes environmental policies are generally beneficial to the economy and businesses in the UK, while just 15% believe they are detrimental. A further 19% say environmental policies are generally neither beneficial nor detrimental, while a quarter (24%) says they don’t know.
A similar proportion of those who voted Conservative (40%) and Labour (43%) in the 2019 General Election say that environmental policies are generally beneficial to the economy, a position which a plurality of all age groups also express.
While only 15% of respondents believe that environmental policies are detrimental to the economy and to businesses, a majority (54%) of the British public nevertheless agree with a statement suggesting that even if it were severely detrimental to the economy, protecting the environment should be given priority. 15% disagree that protecting the environment should be given priority if it is severely detrimental to the economy, whereas 26% neither agree nor disagree.
For this question, there is a considerably greater proportion of 2019 Labour voters (66%) than Conservative voters (45%) who agree that protecting the environment should be given priority, even at the cost of the economy.
A plurality (41%) of Britons also say they would support personally paying more in taxes to fund environmental initiatives, a measure which a quarter of respondents say they would oppose (26%) or neither support nor oppose (27%).
A majority (53%) of respondents aged 18 to 24 say they would support paying more in taxes to fund environmental initiatives, compared to 37% of 55-to-64-year-olds, revealing a significant generational gap on this matter.
Beyond issues of taxation and environmental policies, a wider debate exists over whether the UK’s current system of capitalism can protect the planet or not, depending on whether one views capitalism as primarily encouraging beneficial innovation or harmful greed. In the Conservative Party’s 2019 Election Manifesto, it states ‘we believe that free markets, innovation and prosperity can protect the planet’—a view with which a plurality of Britons appear to align: 42% say free markets and capitalism, by encouraging innovation, can protect the planet, compared to 29% who say free markets and capitalism, by encouraging greed, cannot protect the planet. A substantial 29% of respondents say they don’t know which statement comes closest to their view.
The view that free markets and capitalism can protect the planet is most widespread among those aged 65 and over (47%) and those who voted Conservative in the 2019 Election (53%). Meanwhile, a plurality of 18-to-24-year-olds (37%) and Labour voters (39%) conversely believe that free markets and capitalism cannot protect the planet. That being said, a considerable 37% of Labour voters say that free markets and capitalism can, in fact, protect the planet.
When it comes to the impact that fighting climate change will have on the economy, the British public tends to have a positive outlook, with a plurality believing that environmental policies are beneficial to the economy and that the current capitalist system is able to protect the planet by encouraging innovation. Even so, the British public appears prepared to take on additional costs should there be a negative economic impact to environmental policies.