Public want radical response to climate change with same urgency as coronavirus, poll finds

Environmentalists say politicians have not yet caught up with fast changing public opinion

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Thursday 16 April 2020 07:18 BST
Australia has suffered from months of wildfires, which have killed dozens and burned millions of hectares
Australia has suffered from months of wildfires, which have killed dozens and burned millions of hectares (AFP via Getty)

The government should be more radical and put in place serious policies to fight the climate crisis with the same urgency as it has to coronavirus, voters believe.

A new survey by pollsters Opinium found 48 per cent of the public agree that the government should respond "with the same urgency to climate change as it has with Covid-19", with just 28 per cent saying it shouldn't.

Environmentalists said the polling figures were a "green light" for the government to be more ambitious in tackling the climate crisis and that politicians had not yet caught up with public opinion on the issue.

The polling is the latest evidence that public opinion is moving fast towards seriously tackling the crisis, following a surge in attention given in the issue last year amid international protests. The start of 2020 was punctuated with climate-related disasters like forest fires in Australia and major flooding.

But activists say the coronavirus has also "created an unrivalled opening" for more radical measures, with old political certainties about the role of the state evaporating overnight. The UK has committed to cutting its carbon output to net zero but its own Committee on Climate Change has warned that its current measures are far from adequate to meet its legal goal.

“I think these polling figures are really exciting. That is a pretty big green light to say government’s should be far more ambitious when it comes to tackling the climate crisis then that have ever dreamed of being before," Green MP Caroline Lucas told the Compassion in Politics Podcast, which commissioned the poll.

"All too often you get the sense that they won’t do what they know they should do because they are concerned about out the public would respond to it.

"This polling shows that yet again the public are far ahead of the politicians and if those politicians can put in place a clear strategy with clear tactics along the way then they can bring the public with them and we can then, I think, get ourselves on to a much safer course when it comes to climate than we are currently on. So I am very excited by this poll and I hope it will be a spur to more action on climate.”

The Covid-19 crisis itself has produced a major, if temporary, cut in carbon emissions, with analysts predicting the largest ever fall in CO2 output as economic activity grinds to a halt or moves online across the globe.

One analysis by the website CarbonBrief published on Wednesday suggests the pandemic could cause global emissions cuts this year in the region of 2,000m tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2), based on the evidence currently available.

The crisis also however gives an indication of the scale of the challenge: the emissions cut is equivalent to around 5.5 per cent of the total global output, but scientists say a sustained 7.6 per cent reduction each year will be needed to keep global warming below the crucial 1.5C level to prevent disaster.

Jennifer Nadel, Co-Director of Compassion in Politics told The Independent: “The public are way ahead of the government on their willingness to tackle climate change and where they lead, politicians will have to follow. This polling is a mandate to the British government to go further, do more, and think bigger on climate than ever before.

“The public's response to Covid-19 has shown how we can rise to any challenge and do so with compassion, concern, and consideration for one another. The exact same spirit, the exact same creativity, and the exact same determination will be needed to stop climate breakdown and to build back better.

"This crisis has created an unrivalled opening where the government could use the economic levers it has at its disposal to finally address climate change. Instead of bailing out carbon heavy industries it could build back better investing in a green new deal so that Britain emerges from this crisis a more resilient and just society.”

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