Fears over climate change hit highest level in a decade following heatwave, study says

Exclusive: 72 per cent of British adults now 'very' or 'fairly' concerned about impacts of climate change

Harry Cockburn
Wednesday 05 September 2018 21:26 BST
Drone video shows Saddleworth Moor fire raging in UK heatwave

British people’s concern over climate change hit the highest level in almost a decade amid the record-breaking heatwave which swept across Britain this summer, a new poll has revealed.

While many people took the opportunity to enjoy the hot weather, the unprecedented temperatures also appear to have led many to worry about what caused it.

The poll by Opinium showed 60 per cent of British adults think climate change made the heatwave “stronger or more likely to happen”.

It also revealed almost a third of respondents (30 per cent) now describe themselves as “very concerned” about climate change – higher than any poll since 2008. A further 42 per cent said they are “fairly” concerned.

The soaring summer heat surpassed the record set in 1976 in England and daytime temperatures regularly rose above 30C across the country throughout June and July.

The dry conditions had a significant impact on farms, with warnings food prices could rise in the coming months. There were also record A&E admissions over the summer.

Meanwhile temperatures across the northern hemisphere were also anomalous. Sweden recorded its hottest July in over 260 years, and was forced to issue an appeal for international aid as wildfires ravaged swathes of forest above the Arctic Circle where temperatures exceeded 30C.

The heatwave which enveloped northern Europe was made twice as likely due to the effects of climate change, according to an international team of scientists from the World Weather Attribution network.

But climate change writer Leo Barasi, author of The Climate Majority: Apathy and Action in an Age of Nationalism, who developed the Opinium poll, suggested the impact of the heatwave in the UK was still yet to be fully realised and concern could soon increase further.

He told The Independent: “In the UK we have just had this heatwave which most people link with climate change – concern has gone up, but it hasn’t completely rocketed. It’s a bit of a double-edged thing – they believe it was definitely a sign of climate change, just as the science says, but most people’s experience of it was not unequivocally awful – not like a massive forest fire or a terrible hurricane. Some people quite enjoyed it.

“But what we will start getting are the consequences of it – food prices being higher, data from hospitals showing the effects of the heatwave, and farmers having problems with feed for their animals.”

He added: “If there’s a penny dropping about the heatwave, then it’s when the effects start to hit people.”

The research also indicated that climate change is among the top five issues the public, particularly younger people, want politicians to talk about more – ahead of prominent issues like Brexit, the economy and education, though behind health, immigration, housing and crime.

Dr Jonathan Marshall, head of analysis at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, told The Independent: “Public awareness of the effects that climate change is having now is in tune with the science, which has shown that emissions from human activity made this summer’s heatwave twice as likely to occur.

“This is also not the first time that the fingerprints of climate change have been seen on extreme weather events in the UK, with devastating storms that caused hundreds of millions of pounds in damage in 2015 made 40 per cent more likely by climate change.”

He added: “As more of these events occur in the UK, public support for action to cut emissions is likely to continue to swell.”

A spokesperson from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told The Independent: “We are taking robust action to ensure our country is resilient and prepared for the challenges a changing climate brings.

“Our long-term plan for climate change adaptation sets out ongoing work and investment to make sure food and water supplies are protected, businesses and communities are properly prepared and the right infrastructure is in place.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in