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National Science & Engineering Week: New survey results showing changing public attitude to climate change


 As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change moves in to the final stages of its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) where it aims to provide an update of knowledge on the scientific, technical and socio-economic aspects of climate change, the British Science Association has today revealed the results of an independent study into public attitudes towards climate change.  

The results were revealed to launch National Science & Engineering Week. As part of this study, 992 respondents were questioned about their belief in, and attitude towards global warming. Topics covered include the causes of climate change, the seriousness of the impact, and which figures of authority could be trusted to provide accurate information about the phenomenon. The study follows on from a series of public opinion polls, charting the change in public attitudes since 2005.

When asked whether they personally thought the world’s climate was changing, 75% of respondents said yes, 16% said no, whilst 8% weren’t sure. Women were more likely to believe in climate change than men (78% compared to 72%), as were those surveyed from socio-economic groups A-B, compared to D-E (84% compared to 67%). Although figures from a 2005 UEA/MORI survey suggested that 91% of people believed climate change was happening, a 2010 BBC/Populus survey reported the figure at 75%, suggesting that whilst belief in climate change fell during the second half of the noughties, this trend has now levelled off.

Whilst levels of belief in the concept of climate change are stable, the survey indicated that the public were increasingly inclined to believe that climate change claims weren’t exaggerated. Asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement ‘The seriousness of climate change is exaggerated’, 34% agreed (9% strongly agree, 26% tend to agree), 21% neither agreed nor disagreed, and 39% disagreed (26% tend to disagree, 13% strongly disagree). Compared to 2010, which saw 40% agree and 2011 when 44% agreed (LWEC).

At the same time, there has been a sharp increase in the percentage of people who agreed that they could trust climate scientists to tell the truth about climate change. 52% agreed with this statement, with only 19% disagreeing (23% neither agree nor disagree, 5% don’t know). In 2011, just 38% agreed they could trust climate scientists, and 34% disagreed (25% neither agreed nor disagreed, 3% don’t know).

Whilst the nation has become more trusting of the evidence presented by climate scientists, it seems that they are becoming less confident in the ability of national and international political communities, to take action against climate change. Asked who should be mainly responsible for this action, only 26% said the national governments, compared to 32% in 2010, and 39% in 2005. Similarly, only 21% indicated that they thought the international community should take the lead in any action, compared to 30% in 2010 and 32% in 2005.

Compared with previous surveys, it seems that increasing numbers of people felt that the primary responsibility for taking action against climate change lies with individuals and their families (16% in 2013, compared to 10% in 2010 and just 8% in 2005. 8% believe environmental groups should take the lead, 17% think it’s down to industrial and commercial companies, and just 1% say that everybody should share the primary responsibility for taking action.

Professor Nick Pidgeon of Cardiff University School of Psychology, who advised the British Science Association on the design of the survey, commented “Global warming is both a complex science phenomenon and one of the greatest political challenges that we face today. As such the public needs to have confidence in the conclusions from climate science and the scientists involved. I was very pleased to see trust in climate scientists rising again, after a period when some have questioned their efforts. This should help all of us to engage in the vital debate about what to do in response to the increasing risks of climate disruption.”

 To download the full results in pdf format, click here

– Ends –


About the survey: Populus conducted 992 face-to-face interviews on the subject of climate change, in February 2013. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council, and abides by its rules. For more information, see www. populus.co.uk

Details of other studies mentioned:

BBC/Populus 2010: Populus interviewed a random sample of 1001 adults aged 18+ by telephone on 3rd and 4th February 2010. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to be representative of all adults.

Cardiff/Ipsos MORI 2010: Results were based on 1822 face-to-face, in-home CAPI interviews with members of the British public (England, Scotland and Wales) aged 15+. Fieldwork was conducted between 6th January and 26th March 2010. Data were weighted to the profile of the known population.

UEA/MORI 2005: Interviews for this study were conducted between 1st October and 6th November 2005. A quantitative survey was undertaken in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) by MORI. A national representative quota sample of 1491 people aged 15+ was interviewed face-to-face in their own homes.

LWEC 2011: Results are based on 1007 face-to-face, in-home computer-assisted personal interviews with members of the British public aged 16+. Fieldwork was conducted between 17th and 22nd March 2011. Data are weighted to match the demographic profile of the UK as a whole.


For further information

Coralie Young (British Science Association), Coralie.Young@britishscienceassociation.org (0207) 019 4946.
Please email press@britishscienceassociation.org to request the full data files from the survey.


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