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Climate Change still high on public agenda

11 June 2010

According to results of a new survey published today (Friday 11 June 2010), despite a decline in concern about climate change, the majority of the British public still believe the climate is changing and say they are prepared to act on this.

As the new Government begins to get to grips with the task of meeting its climate change obligations while also renewing the energy supply system for Britain, new survey results published today report the British public’s attitudes towards these issues.

The research represents the first independent nationwide survey of these topics since the winter controversies over climate science, and finds that belief in climate change remains high although the numbers believing this has decreased with time.

The study reveals:

  • That a clear majority of the British public believe that the world’s climate is changing and express concern about this. Although these majorities have decreased since the researchers last surveyed in 2005 most remain willing to take action on climate change
  • People are currently somewhat more supportive of nuclear power than in 2005, although significant concerns and negativity remain.
  • The British population clearly holds much stronger preferences for renewable energy.

The survey reveals very high levels of concern about energy security issues.

Professor Nick Pidgeon, from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology, who led the research team, explained that "the country is faced with a range of critical decisions on both climate change and energy production and use which will affect us all. Whether new nuclear power, major wind farms, or encouraging people to conserve energy, we need to understand how public attitudes will impact on decisions. This new research helps us to understand how public views on these issues are changing".

The study, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Leverhulme Trust, surveyed a representative sample of 1,822 people across England, Scotland and Wales and was carried out by researchers from School of Psychology and the Welsh School of Architecture at Cardiff University, in conjunction with Ipsos MORI.

The detailed results are being presented and discussed at a meeting on Friday 11th June at the Royal Society in London, and include the following key findings:

Beliefs about Climate Change

  • The majority of respondents (78%) consider that the world’s climate is changing. This represents a significant fall from the very high levels (91%) who believed this in 2005.
  • Most people (71%) remain either fairly or very concerned about climate change
    (compared to 82% when asked in 2005).
  • Significantly, given recent media controversy surrounding climate change science, a proportion (40%) do consider that the seriousness of climate change is exaggerated, although the majority (57%) still believe that most scientists agree that humans are causing climate change.
  • A majority (65%) say they are prepared to reduce their energy use to tackle climate change and most (68%) state they would probably or definitely vote in favour of spending taxpayers’ money on British projects designed to tackle climate change.

Beliefs about Energy Security

  • The public is highly concerned that the UK will become too dependent in the future on importing energy from other countries (81% concerned) while over three-quarters (78%) are concerned that electricity will become unaffordable.

Beliefs about Nuclear Power

  • The proportion of the sample who agree that the benefits of nuclear power outweigh its risks has risen to 38% in 2010, compared with 32% who said this in 2005.
  • On replacement of British nuclear stations 46% favoured this and a similar proportion did not (47%).
  • Support for nuclear rises in the context of climate change or energy security with 56% of respondents (compared to 55% in 2005) willing to accept the building of new nuclear power stations if it would help to tackle climate change.

Beliefs about Renewable Energy

  • Renewable sources (wind and solar power) remain strongly favoured forms of electricity production.

However, only 39% of the sample currently favour the construction of a Barrage across the Severn (with 24% slightly or strongly opposed to this proposition).

Commenting on the results, Professor Pidgeon added: "The results do show a rise in those who hold doubts about the reality of climate change, although this may not be as significant as some had first feared. We were surprised to see the very high levels of concern about energy security, and conclude that support exists for an energy policy framed around both the future security of supplies and realistic action to address climate change. In terms of developing a low carbon energy economy for Britain, renewables are clearly favoured whilst nuclear power remains unpopular but may be accepted alongside the development of a range of other energy sources."

The research was funded with additional support from The Leverhulme Trust (


Notes for Editors

1.For further information, a copy of the report or to arrange an interview with Professor Nick Pidgeon or the other Principal Investigators (Dr Alexa Spence or Dr Wouter Poortinga) please contact:

Lowri Jones
Cardiff University Public Relations Office
029 2087 0995

2. These are initial findings. A full copy of the survey report will be available from 11th June 2010 at

3. The full title of the report is Spence, A., Venables, D., Pidgeon, N., Poortinga, W. and Demski, C. (2010). Public Perceptions of Climate Change and Energy Futures in Britain: Summary Findings of a Survey Conducted in January-March 2010. Technical Report (Understanding Risk Working Paper 10-01). Cardiff: School of Psychology

4. The survey was conducted in Britain between 6th January and 26th March 2010. A nationally representative quota sample of the British population aged 15 years and older (n=1822) were interviewed face-to-face in their own homes in 315 sampling locations by the social research company Ipsos MORI (www.ipsos The full British sample of 1,822 is based on a core sample of 1,528, to which additional booster samples from Scotland (109) and Wales (185) were added. All data have been weighted to the known profile of the British population. The data based on the sample of 1,822 are accurate to within +/- 2.6% for a 50% finding (95 times in 100).

5. The ESRC is the UK’s largest funding agency for research relating to social and economic issues. It has a track record of providing high-quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The current budget of £203 million (2008/2009) funds over 4000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and policy research institutes throughout the UK

6. The Leverhulme Trust was established in 1925 under the Will of the first Viscount Leverhulme. It is one of the largest all-subject providers of research funding in the UK, distributing funds of some £50 million every year. For further information about the schemes that The Leverhulme Trust fund visit their website at

7. Cardiff School of Psychology. The School of Psychology is one of Britain’s top-rated schools of psychology. In the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, it was ranked first in the UK on the basis of overall quality of research and numbers of staff whose work was submitted. In an independent assessment of its teaching, conducted by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the School was rated ‘Excellent’.

8. Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, Professor Sir Martin Evans. Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning.