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Exclusive polling: Brits want more climate action as energy prices bite

Cutting reliance on fossil fuels is a political opportunity for Boris Johnson.

By Philippa Nuttall

The majority of Britons are concerned about climate change and rising energy bills, and would support government action to increase funding for home insulation and build more wind and solar farms.

Energy bills were already rising rapidly before the war in Ukraine, which is pushing oil and gas prices even higher. Brent crude, the benchmark oil price, soared to nearly $140 a barrel on 6 March — double the price at the beginning of December — after Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, suggested the US and Europe could ban imports of oil from Russia. Prices dropped slightly yesterday (7 March) to $123 a barrel, as Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, pushed back against such sanctions. Gas prices are also rising alarmingly, which is expected to lead to UK energy bills reaching more than £3,000 a year. 

Despite the war and the energy crisis, the British public has not forgotten about climate change. Exclusive polling for the New Statesman by the polling company Redfield and Wilton Strategies reveals that 70 per cent of people are concerned about climate change, and nearly 40 per cent said that extreme weather events affected their daily lives. Only 4 per cent of respondents, however, said they were fully convinced that the government’s performance on climate change was good enough. The survey of a weighted sample of 1,500 adults in Great Britain was carried out on 2 March 2022.

Over two thirds of people (72 per cent) said that the British government was also not doing enough to help people with rising energy prices. Nearly half said that they were wearing more clothes, rather than turning up the heating, to keep warm and save money.

A handful of Conservative MPs are pushing fracking as a solution to the climate crisis, and a way to increase UK energy security, despite the technology having little public support. In launching his call for a referendum on net zero this weekend, the former Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage also gave his support to fracking and described the government’s aim to reduce UK emissions to as close to zero as possible by 2050 as a “scandal of epic proportions” that will lead to “zero” money in people’s bank accounts.

Voters clearly do not agree with him. Most Britons are in favour of more energy efficiency measures and more renewable energy to meet climate goals. The vast majority said in response to rising energy bills that they would support the government temporarily removing VAT on energy bills and investing more in home insulation. Over 70 per cent would support more wind farms in the UK -- and back them being built in their local areas -- while more solar energy production has the backing of nearly 80 per cent of voters.

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