Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Chart of the Day
24 November 2021

Climate change is now the most important issue, according to the British public

In a new poll 40 per cent said that the environment was one of their top three issues, while just 27 per cent chose the pandemic.

By Polly Bindman

The environment has become Britain’s number one issue, overtaking other major concerns including Covid, the economy and Brexit, according to Ipsos Mori.

In the same month that global leaders gathered in Glasgow for what many consider to be failed negotiations on climate change, 40 per cent of voters said that the environment, pollution or climate change was among their top three biggest issues – its highest ever score – whereas just 27 per cent chose the pandemic. This is a sharp reversal from the last 18 months, during which the pandemic occupied the prime spot. It is also only the third time the environment has topped the poll of voter concerns since 1988.

When asked to select their single most important issue, the most popular option was also the environment, with 21 per cent voters selecting this over Covid, which took 13 per cent of votes.  

The poll found that climate change was the top concern across all demographics in November – even those typically less concerned with the environment. Forty seven per cent of voters over 55 years old selected it as one of their top three issues, as did 40 per cent of Conservative voters. 

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

[see also: How the Republican Party is awakening to the reality of the climate crisis]

Leo Barasi, former pollster and author of The Climate Majority, said: “This is a remarkable turnaround in public opinion. Four years ago the environment wasn't even a top-15 issue with the public, with only 7 per cent naming it as a top priority. Since then we've had a string of heatwaves and floods, UN science reports and mass public protests – and opinion has changed dramatically.”  

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them

Colin Malaney, head of UK programmes at the Conservative Environment Network, added: “The Prime Minister should be confident that he has the strong backing of the public, including Conservative voters, to press on with the policies needed to reach net zero.”

[see also: Cop26 was a failure but the shows of solidarity around Glasgow are cause for hope]