Global warming is not our fault, say most voters in Times poll
The Times UK
Ben Webster, Environment Editor, and Peter Riddell
November 14, 2009
The revelation that ministers have failed in their campaign to persuade the public that the greenhouse effect is a serious threat requiring urgent action will make uncomfortable reading for the Government as it prepares for next month’s climate change summit in Copenhagen.
Only 41 per cent accept as an established scientific fact that global warming is taking place and is largely man-made. Almost a third (32 per cent) believe that the link is not yet proved; 8 per cent say that it is environmentalist propaganda to blame man and 15 per cent say that the world is not warming.
Tory voters are more likely to doubt the scientific evidence that man is to blame. Only 38 per cent accept it, compared with 45 per cent of Labour supporters and 47 per cent of Liberal Democrat voters.
The high level of scepticism underlines the difficulty the Government will have in persuading the public to accept higher green taxes to help to meet Britain’s legally binding targets to cut carbon emissions by 34 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050.
The recession appears to have made tackling climate change less of a priority for many people. Only just over a quarter (28 per cent) think that it is happening and is “far and away the most serious problem we face as a country and internationally”, while just over half (51 per cent) think it is “a serious problem, but other problems are more serious”.
Vicky Pope, head of climate change advice at the Met Office, said that growing awareness of the scale of the problem appeared to be resulting in people taking refuge in denial.
“Being confronted with the possibility of higher energy bills, wind farms down the road and new nuclear power stations encourages people to question everything about climate change,” she said. “There is a resistance to change and some people see the problem being used as an excuse to charge them more taxes.”
Ed Miliband, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, said: “The overwhelming body of scientific information is stacked up against the deniers and shows us that climate change is man-made and is happening now. We know that we still have a way to go in informing people about climate change and that is why we make no apologies about pushing forward with our new Act on CO2 campaign.”
The finding suggests that the public is unconvinced by the Government’s message that climate change is “the moral issue of our times” and that we must embrace urgently a low-carbon lifestyle.
The poll, undertaken last weekend, found that only two in five people in Britain accept as an established scientific fact that global warming is largely man-made.
The high degree of scepticism undermines the Government’s position at the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen next month. Gordon Brown will struggle to persuade developing countries that he has public support at home for drastic measures to reduce carbon emissions. Developing countries are threatening to walk out of the summit unless rich nations, including Britain, commit to making much greater cuts in carbon emissions than they are currently promising.
The poll results indicate that voters are not yet convinced of the need for significant sacrifices and will resist new green taxes.
Conservative voters are consistently less likely to be worried about global warming than other groups and are less supportive of measures to reduce emissions.
There is also a small gender gap, with women slightly more supportive of new green taxes than men.
Overall, 83 per cent accept, from what they have heard, that the Earth’s climate is changing and that global warming is taking place, with 15 per cent disagreeing.
Even among the majority that believes in global warming, only half believe that it is “now an established scientific fact that climate change is largely man-made”.
Among the public as a whole 41 per cent agrees that it is established that climate change is largely man-made. Tory voters are more dubious, at 38 per cent, than Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters (at 45 and 47 per cent).
A third of the public (32 per cent) agree that climate change is happening but believes it has not yet been proven to be largely man-made, while 8 per cent think that the view that climate change is man-made is environmentalist propaganda. Fifteen per cent believe that climate change is not happening.
Only 28 per cent believe that climate change is happening and is “far and away the most serious problem we face as a country and internationally”, while 51 per cent think that it is “a serious problem, but other problems are more serious”.
Only 3 per cent believe that climate change is taking place but is not really a serious problem.
Opinion is split about how the risks and possible consequences of climate change have been presented — 31 per cent believe that these have been presented “proportionately”; 32 per cent “understated”; and 33 per cent “exaggerated”.
On specific policy options the poll shows an increase in support compared with three years ago for new taxes on air travel intended to reduce the number of flights people take, and for raising the cost of motoring to encourage people to drive less.
Compared with November 2006, there has been a reduction in support for a much higher tax on cars that use a lot of petrol and emit high levels of carbon dioxide.
There is now a clear majority of 57 to 40 per cent in favour of new air travel taxes, up from a split of 50/46 per cent in 2006. The highest support is among women, professionals and managers, and Liberal Democrat voters.
Despite an increase in support, a majority still opposes increases in the cost of motoring, by 53 to 44 per cent. By contrast, despite a reduction in support, a big majority of 68 to 29 per cent support much higher taxes on cars that use a lot of petrol. Men (64 to 34 per cent) are much less enthusiastic than women (72 to 24 per cent).
A very big majority (87 to 11 per cent) support new building regulations for all new houses to meet the highest standards of insulation by making more use of renewal energy such as solar power, even if this increases the cost of new homes. Middle-class people back such a change much more than working-class groups.
The public clearly opposes, by 52 to 41 per cent, calls for the cost of meat to be raised because the farming of cows and pigs is a key contributor to methane emissions, a cause of climate change. Opposition is highest among men and Conservative voters.
Voters very strongly support, by 69 to 26 per cent, proposals to set limits on carbon dioxide emissions and to make companies pay for their emissions, even if this results in higher prices for manufactured goods and energy.
A Met Office survey conducted in August found that the proportion of people saying they knew little or nothing about climate change had grown from 32 per cent in 2006 to 47 per cent.
Mike Childs, head of climate change at Friends of the Earth, said that the continuing scepticism will make it difficult for politicians to obtain public support on measures to take climate change.
“If you are going to tackle climate change in places like the UK it means having to take difficult political decisions when we know that what we put out into the atmosphere now will not have an impact here for 20 or 30 years,” he said. “There will be difficulty in obtaining public support for some of the challenging decisions politicians have to take in the short term.”
There was little political risk in taking unpopular actions, though, because all the main parties were committed to tackling the issue, he said.
Mr Childs said that there was disproportionate media coverage of the view of scientists who challenged the link between climate change and human activity. The vast majority believed that the relationship was as strong as that between smoking and cancer.
Populus interviewed a random sample of 1,504 adults aged over 18 by telephone between November 6 and 8. For more details go to http://www.populus.co.uk/
Proposing a revision of the 2003 Energy Taxation Directive will be on the agenda of the new Commission, "hopefully early in the New Year," Thomas Carroll, head of unit at the Commission's directorate-general for taxation and the customs union, told a roundtable organised by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).
The outgoing Commission had hoped to see the proposal adopted already, but it became clear that member states had no appetite for controversial tax proposals when ratifying the Lisbon Treaty was the highest priority.
The revised directive will seek to bring current energy taxation in line with the EU's climate objectives by obliging member states to levy a CO2 tax on heating and motor fuels that do not feature in carbon trading, a draft shows (EurActiv 29/09/09). In addition, it seeks to iron out any overlaps with the EU's emissions trading scheme (EU ETS; see EurActiv LinksDossier) to avoid double-charging industries.
But Carroll stressed that EU countries would be free to choose a higher level of taxation than the minimum set by the EU.
"We are simply trying to create a level playing field and provide the tools in a Community framework," he said.
Carroll said that the Commission was currently working on the assumption that the carbon-related component would not increase the total level of energy taxation. Rather, the draft simply recasts the minimum tax rates for two components, one based on CO2 and the other on energy content.
"At the moment, this is just a working hypothesis," Carroll said. "Whether that will be the position of the new Commission, I don't know."
The official pointed out that the EU executive had wanted to avoid creating headlines in member states accusing the EU of being about to impose yet another new tax on citizens.
But the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) criticised the low rates, saying that they would not have the desired effect of persuading consumers to switch to more energy-efficient fuels. The Commission estimates that a carbon price of €39 per tonne of CO2 will be necessary to reach the EU's binding 2020 emission reduction target.
Catherine Pearce, a policy officer at the EEB, stressed that taxation is still a "dirty word" for both consumers and companies and appropriately informing them about any changes to the current framework will be crucial.
"How such a measure is communicated is key, and I think it's where many member states have failed in the past," she said.
The EU executive has a bad track record of getting tax proposals through as member states refuse to relinquish their exclusive competency in the area. Carroll noted that although a previous proposal to tax CO2 emissions from cars failed in 2005, many member states had put in place similar national schemes since then.
"The messeage got through. Unfortunately it's been done in an uncoordinated manner," the EU official said.
He added that even within the Commission, it is difficult to get a taxation proposal out as commissioners from the less prosperous new member states are always looking at the impact of taxes on their societies.