In Depth

Why climate matters more than Brexit to most Brits

A day after near-record temperatures scorch Britain, survey shows that climate crisis is preying on the minds of the public

A majority of British people believe that climate change will pose a greater threat to the UK than Brexit in the future, according to a new poll published a day after Britain experienced its second-highest temperature on record.

Renewed fears over the UK’s changing climate were stoked yesterday after temperatures reached a sweltering 38.1°C (100.6°F) in Cambridge. The hottest July day ever recorded in the country, it fell just short of the 38.5°C (101.3°F) record set in Faversham in Kent in August 2003.

While Brexit and the UK’s impending collision course with a no-deal scenario continue to dominate the headlines, a new ComRes survey commissioned by Christian Aid has revealed that 71% of the UK public “agreed that climate change would be more important than the country’s departure from the EU in the long term”, The Guardian reports.

The report also showed that 60% of the 2,072 people surveyed said the government was not doing enough to prioritise the climate crisis, prompting Laura Taylor, Christian Aid’s advocacy director, to claim that the British public is “waking up to the devastating effects of the climate emergency” despite significant political upheaval.

Yet questions undoubtedly remain over Johnson’s commitment to, or even interest in, the looming threat of climate change, with Reuters reporting that the former foreign secretary has a “mixed record on climate action”.

The news agency says that while serving as mayor of London, Johnson reduced the size of the city’s congestion charge zone, a move “counter to efforts to curb carbon emissions and air pollution”.

However, his climate credentials were boosted after he “encouraged cycling by rolling out a public bike-hire scheme” and spoke out against the expansion of Heathrow Airport - although Reuters notes that he ultimately missed a key vote to block the project.

During his stint as foreign secretary under Theresa May, Johnson was largely silent on the subject of climate change. However, he used his inaugural speech as prime minister on Wednesday to briefly mention the environment, claiming the UK was “leading the world in the battery technology that will help cut CO2 and tackle climate change and produce green jobs for the next generation”.

He also said in a statement this week that the UK’s aid budget would be used to combat climate change, but did not clarify further details, and in his first address to Parliament on Thursday he reiterated his support for the UK’s net zero target. 

Taylor said that it is “clear that beyond the present political turmoil, UK adults know there is a bigger crisis, which is potentially catastrophic for the whole of humanity”, and added that she hopes Johnson will “hear the challenge from the majority of the UK public to do more to tackle this climate emergency”.

Others believe that government action alone cannot solve the crisis. As environmental news site Edie reports, the ComRes survey comes shortly after a separate survey from consultancy firm FleishmanHillard Fishburn (FHF), which “concluded that climate change is now in the top three issues which consumers expect big businesses to take action on – up from 17th in 2018”. 

The survey painted an even more damning picture than the ComRes study, showing that 84% of climate efforts disclosed by big businesses in the UK were perceived as inadequate by the study’s 1,140 participants.

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