26 Sep 2023

UK public support for net zero has fallen since COP26

MHP Group's latest Polarisation Tracker, Super Distrusters vs The Elite, finds Left-Right divide on Net Zero and perceptions of climate risk

MHP Group

A new report from MHP Group and Cambridge University’s Political Psychology Lab, released today, finds declining support for government action on climate change and an emerging divide between Left and Right-leaning voters on the desirability of achieving Net Zero by 2050.

While two thirds (66.9%) of the UK adults participating in the Polarisation Tracker study still agree with the statement “the government should be doing more to address the issue of climate change”, this is down from the high-watermark of three quarters (74.6%) achieved in summer 2021, as the UK prepared to host COP26. Since then, support has trended steadily down in each of the survey waves, conducted every six months.

Download the full report

The cost and impact on people’s daily lives were among the key public concerns highlighted by the report:

  • 53% of UK adults agreed with the statement: “Transitioning to Net Zero will cost much more than the country can afford in financial terms.” (vs 26% disagree).
  • 49% of UK adults agreed with the statement: “Transitioning to Net Zero will require the Government to interfere in our lives much more than we should tolerate.” (vs 31% disagree).

The study, conducted before PM Rishi Sunak’s Downing Street speech in September, which pushed back Net Zero deadlines on heat pumps and electric vehicles, also revealed a major divide between Left and Right-leaning voters in terms of support for Net Zero and concern about climate change.

Self-identified right-wing adults were four times more likely (37.2%) than self-identified left-wing adults (7.8%) to disagree with the statement: “We should try to reach Net Zero by 2050, even if it means I have to make changes to my way of life” and nearly three times as likely to say that UK media coverage of climate change is “too alarmist” (63.1% vs 20.5%).

The study found that distrust of elites was closely related to distrust of the Net Zero agenda. “Super Distrusters”, who represent 29% of the adult population of the UK were less likely to support any Net Zero measure, other than expansion of nuclear and renewable energy.

Commenting on the data, MHP Group Deputy CEO, Nick Barron said:

“Public support for Net Zero remains strong, but it is declining and dividing. Once an issue becomes politically polarised, it is extremely hard to return to consensus politics. Given what is at stake and the critical role that public support will play in meeting Net Zero goals, it’s vital that we find new ways to bridge the growing divide.”

Download the full report

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