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‘Overwhelming’ global consensus behind stronger climate legislation

A large-scale survey carried out by Cambridge University and YouGov has found strong support for further government-led action to mitigate climate change across the Americas, Europe and Asia.

The survey directly asked the public about the policies they want to see backed by governments at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). COP26 is scheduled to take place in eight months' time, having been postponed from November 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. It will be jointly hosted by the UK and Italy in Glasgow.

University of Cambridge researchers worked with YouGov to survey 14,627 adults in December 2020, with approximately 2,000 each in Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Poland, the UK and the US. In order to find a baseline for support, the participants were given one of four texts about climate change which reflected current UN messaging or a neutral text unrelated to climate change. They were also asked if they agree or disagree with the statement that “all national governments should do more to protect the environment”.

The results showed extremely high levels of support for government-led action against climate change. In six of the seven countries polled, at least nine out of ten participants agreed that the government should do more for the climate.

Compared to the baseline, exposure to one of the climate change texts led to a small rise in support of one to two percentage points.

The US had the lowest level of support at 79 per cent, with 2020 Trump voters at 55 per cent and Biden voters at 95 per cent. There were smaller but still significant political divides among UK adults, with higher support for climate action among Labour supporters compared with Conservative supporters (97 per cent vs. 87 per cent) and Remain voters compared with Leave voters (96 per cent vs. 86 per cent).

“We live in a time of polarisation and environmental issues have long embodied the political divisions in society,” said Dr Lee de-Wit, a political psychologist at the University of Cambridge. “However, this may be changing. We can see an overwhelming consensus emerging for greater government-led action to protect the environment in major nations.

“As we approach COP26, politicians the world over should take confidence from these findings. Voters across party lines want to see more government action. The time is now.”

The survey also questioned participants on which policies they would like to see governments support at COP26. The most popular were to “protect and preserve” wildlife, marine life and plants, and to “plant more trees to absorb the gases that cause climate change”. These were followed by investment in clean technologies, then reducing greenhouse gas emissions over 30 years.

Just five per cent of participants in the UK group said that governments are “doing all they should” to combat climate change. There was strong majority support for all four policies in the UK. Last year, the UK government laid out its “10-point plan” to combat climate change via a “green industrial revolution”. This includes a huge expansion in offshore wind, hydrogen production, nuclear power and carbon capture, as well as bringing forward a ban on petrol and diesel vehicles.

Dr Sander van der Linden, director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab, said: “These survey results make it clear that irrespective of age, gender and nationality, citizens around the world want governments to do more to protect the environment.”

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