Boris Johnson was today facing calls to step up action on global warming, after a poll for The Independent found overwhelming support for radical change to end the UK’s net carbon emissions by the end of the decade.
Some 70 per cent of those questioned by pollsters BMG said they supported the target of net-zero emissions by 2030, with only 7 per cent opposing it. And support for swift action over the next 10 years was high across all age ranges, social groups and parts of the country, countering perceptions of a generational or urban/rural split on the climate emergency.
The survey found high levels of concern over the threat which climate change poses to everyday life for people in the UK, with 57 per cent saying they expected it to have a negative impact, against just 12 per cent who said it would be positive and 21 per cent who thought it would not make any difference.
The figures uncovered unprecedented levels of public concern in a year when the UK will take centre stage in the battle against global warming, hosting the COP26 United Nations summit on climate change in Glasgow in November. They came as wildfires in Australia fuelled anxiety about the impact of increased temperatures around the globe.
The government’s target of reaching net zero by 2050 was enshrined in law by Theresa May last year and confirmed by Boris Johnson in the Conservative manifesto for last month’s election.
And the UK is already at the forefront of the world’s response, as the G7 country cutting greenhouse gas emissions fastest since 1990 and the first to legislate on a net-zero target date. Norway has set a net-zero target for 2030 and Finland has announced its intention to reach the goal by 2035.
But Britain is not on track to meet its current commitments, and campaigners argue that the 2050 target is anyway not ambitious enough. And they pointed to the new poll findings as evidence that the public was increasingly convinced of the need for rapid action.
Friends of the Earth said this would mean abandoning plans for new roads and airport runways, ending state support for fossil fuels and investing in renewable power, energy efficiency and the doubling of UK tree cover in the coming years.
Green Party co-leader and London mayoral candidate Sian Berry told The Independent: “These findings should be a major wake-up call to the government and other political parties who are simply not taking climate action seriously enough.
“At the last general election, the Green Party was the only party to commit to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2030 by investing in new industries, jobs and community action, and now we can see the majority of the public agrees.
“Transforming our towns, cities and economy is a win-win, and science has already made it clear that this is what is necessary within the next decade to avoid runaway climate chaos.”
Ms Berry said that as mayor she would ensure the government was “forced to listen to the clear concerns of the public and take action on the most important issue of our time”.
Labour’s annual conference last autumn voted to slash carbon emissions to net-zero by 2030, but the policy was later watered down to achieving the “substantial majority” of reductions by the end of the decade and putting the UK “on track for a net-zero-carbon energy system within the 2030s”.
Protesters from Extinction Rebellion (XR) last year brought cities including London to a halt with a series of Climate Strike demonstrations in support of a net-zero target date of 2025, which was dismissed by critics as unachievable.
The group is currently threatening legal action after being placed – in what police later said was an error – on a list of extremist ideologies which should be reported to the Prevent anti-radicalisation programme.
XR spokesperson Alannah Travers said: “People of all ages and social classes across the UK are more concerned than ever about the climate and ecological emergency, and this poll demonstrates how far short our politicians are meeting the desire for radical action to reduce carbon emissions.
“This week we learnt that Extinction Rebellion had been placed on a list of extremist ideologies by counter-terrorism police; a label which has since been retracted. The freedom of our speech, thought and dissent are crucial, particularly at a time when environmental concerns are growing, the world is watching Australia burn and the UK government – still – have failed to show us a credible plan to net zero.
“As we run out of time, it is more crucial than ever that the government takes action this year.”
Friends of the Earth said it was clear that the ever-growing stream of horrifying news stories about extreme weather events around the world was making the public increasingly ready to get behind tough action on climate
Head of policy Mike Childs said: “With the planet battered by devastating floods and fires it’s little wonder that the vast majority of people back far tougher government action to confront the climate crisis.
“Boris Johnson’s government must take notice and put the rapid shift to a zero-carbon economy front and centre of its policy making.
“This means abandoning plans to build more climate-wrecking roads and runways and ending support for fossil fuels at home and abroad.
“By investing in the UK’s huge renewable energy potential, a comprehensive energy efficiency programme and doubling tree cover we can slash emissions, create new jobs and build the safer, cleaner future we urgently need.
“We need bold action, not more warm words.”
Responding to the poll, a government spokesperson said: “We are going further and faster to tackle climate change than any other major economy with our world-leading commitment to end our contribution to climate change entirely by 2050.
“If we can decarbonise faster, we will, however our target is based on advice from our independent experts, the Committee on Climate Change, who have been clear that it is currently not credible to aim to reach net zero emissions any earlier than 2050.”
But there was evidence in the poll that the government has failed to get its message across to the public on the extent of the UK’s engagement in the international fight against climate change.
Just 32 per cent thought the UK was doing more than the average country to tackle the problem – 10 per cent saying “a lot more” and 22 per cent “a little more” – while 38 per cent thought it was in line with the global average and 17 per cent thought it was doing less than others.
Younger voters were particularly unconvinced by the government’s record, with 27 per cent of 18-24-year-olds saying the UK was doing less than other countries, against 21 per cent who said it was doing more than average. Those aged 25-34 also thought the UK was doing less than average, by a margin of 27-25.
Younger voters were also most fearful of the threat of climate change to their lives, with 72 per cent of 18-24-year-olds expecting a negative impact, compared to 55 per cent of over 65s.
Support for a 2030 net-zero target was strongest among 18-24-year-olds at 78 per cent, but was at 64 per cent or above in all age groups, with the strongest opposition found at just 11 per cent among 55-64-year-olds.
Women (73 per cent) were slightly more likely to back the 2030 target than men (66 per cent). And the radical policy was favoured by more in the top ABC1 social classes (74 per cent) than in the working-class C2DE section (64 per cent).
While it was most popular among Green voters (85 per cent) and Labour supporters (81), the 2030 target also enjoyed majority support among Tories (64). Backing was strongest in the northwest of England (78) and weakest in the Southwest (59), but the highest levels of regional opposition were no higher than 10 per cent, in the west midlands and northeast.
BMG interviewed 1,508 British adults between 8 and 10 January.