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  1. Environment
7 August 2023

Brits don’t believe Rishi Sunak is serious about fighting climate change

The Prime Minister is out of step with the four in five people who say they are personally concerned about the environment.

By Zoë Grünewald

The public is overwhelmingly concerned about climate change, and few are convinced by the Prime Minister’s commitment to net zero, exclusive polling for the New Statesman by Redfield & Wilton Strategies reveals.

The vast majority, 82 per cent, said that climate change had mattered personally to them in the last month. But, despite Rishi Sunak’s insistence that the government will still cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, only a little more than a third of respondents (35 per cent) said they believed he was committed to the UK’s environmental targets.

Sunak has been on a pro-motorist media blitz since the Conservatives narrowly won the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, which was attributed to local opposition to London’s ultra-low emission zone (Ulez). Yet the majority of voters are still in favour of prioritising public transport over car use, with 51 per cent of respondents saying the government should spend more on public transport than private car use. Less than a quarter of respondents (24 per cent) said the opposite.

On the Prime Minister’s own travel habits, only 23 per cent of respondents said they supported him using a private jet to travel to official engagements and political events, while 48 per cent believed he should take public transport, even if it takes him longer to get there.

[See also: When should Rishi Sunak call a general election?]

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These findings follow days of scrutiny of the government’s environmental policies, as Sunak revealed that he would issue hundreds of new oil and gas licences for exploration in the North Sea. The government has also announced a series of proposals that hint at a potential change of position on green measures, including a review of ultra-low emission zones and low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs). In June the Climate Change Committee, which advises the government, concluded that insufficient progress was being made towards net zero.

If Sunak believes that his party’s success in Uxbridge demonstrated a lack of enthusiasm among the public for climate-friendly policies, the New Statesman’s polling suggests he may be mistaken. Backing for traffic-calming measures specifically is varied, but people still lean towards support. Thirty-five per cent of respondents supported Ulez schemes in general in the UK, while 29 per cent opposed them. In a similar vein, 40 per cent supported LTNs and 23 per cent opposed them. For both of these issues, about a quarter of voters (25 per cent and 26 per cent of voters, respectively) neither supported nor opposed, and 11 per cent of voters said they didn’t know.

On LTNs, 52 per cent of respondents felt that LTNs simply redirected cars to other areas, rather than reducing the overall number of cars on the road. This data suggests that there is still a level of confusion among the general public about the impact of traffic-calming measures in the UK.

Redfield & Wilton Strategies polled a weighted sample of 1,500 eligible voters in Great Britain on 2 August 2023 for the New Statesman.

[See also: Rishi Sunak’s anti-green turn won’t save him]

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