Utility Week

Utility Week 9th May 2014

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28 | 9th - 15th May 2014 | UtILIty WEEK Customers Market view W hen you ask people whether they are worried about climate change, they probably say yes. But if you put it next to other problems like unemploy- ment and rising prices, it ranks rather lower. Nevertheless, new polling suggests more people now see climate change and energy supply as significant challenges for the UK. It is all very well asking people whether they are worried about climate change in the abstract. It is a bit like asking them if they're concerned about international poverty: you will generally get an affirmative answer, but it might not tell you much about people's real worries and priorities. To get around this, pollsters can ask peo- ple how they rate the issue against other concerns, such as the increased hardship many have had to endure since the financial crisis hit in 2008. Put like this, you are likely to get a much better idea of the kind of issues that will change the way people vote. New data from the public attitudes tracker survey by the Department of Climate Change (Decc) suggests climate change and energy supply now rank joint fourth in peo- ple's minds as the biggest challenge facing the UK. Just two years ago, energy and sup- ply and climate change ranked eighth and ninth on the list of ten challenges put to respondents by the department. So what has caused such an apparently significant reshuffle? Polling expert Leo Bar- asi says a number of factors could be at play. First, he says, people appear less worried about the economy this year than they have been for a while. "Economic issues like unemployment and rising prices remain the top challenges in people's opinion, but concern appears to have fallen slightly. This means there's a bit more room for other issues," he says. It is also worth noting that climate and energy issues still rank relatively low in terms of how many people put them as the most pressing issue facing the UK. In March 2014, 30 per cent of those asked ranked unemployment as the greatest chal- lenge facing the country; while 19 per cent ranked the National Health Service as the greatest challenge; and 12 per cent said infla- tion and rising house prices. Meanwhile, just 8 per cent each said they saw climate change and energy supply as the nation's greatest challenge. That is still worlds away from economic worries, as the graph below shows. However, a year of devastating floods appears to have le its mark. A YouGov poll in February this year – just aer the floods hit – backs this up. When asked to pick up to three of the most impor- tant issues facing the country at the time, 23 per cent counted the environment among them, compared with 9 per cent in late January. Looking at which challenges made the top three in Decc's polling is also instructive. Thirty-one per cent mentioned energy supply in the top three, and 22 mentioned climate change, as opposed to 26 per cent and 17 per cent, respectively, this time last year. Media and political debate appear to have pushed questions of energy supply further up the agenda. The continued focus on potential new sources of energy, such as shale gas, seems to be breaking through into public consciousness. Many more people are aware of shale gas now than they were last year: 75 per cent of people said in March 2014 that they were aware of shale gas to some degree, up from 52 per cent this time last year. People are also much less likely to take a neutral stance on the issue – down from 48 per cent in Decem- ber 2013 to 44 per cent in March 2014. Meanwhile, support for onshore wind power has risen to a new high – 70 per cent, up from 64 per cent last year. In contrast to the apparent dramatic shi in public priorities on climate and energy issues, general concern about climate change appears to be fairly static. In March 2014, 68 per cent of people, when asked directly, said they were very or fairly concerned about climate change, a similar proportion to March 2013 at 66 per cent, and July 2012 at 65 per cent. The results show just how important it is to ask people not just how concerned they are about something, but to express that concern in relation to other issues. Barasi says: "This kind of question is more interesting and important politically. For example, it gives policymakers a much better indication of the kinds of issues peo- ple might actually vote for". The economy remains the public's great- est concern, but Decc's poll suggests that the easing economic crisis is creating a greater space for political debate and action on cli- mate change and energy. This article by Ros Donald can be seen in full on Carbon Brief, a website dedicated to climate and energy news and analysis (www.carbonbrief.org) Who cares about the climate? Polling shows that energy supply and climate change have rocketed up people's list of concerns. Ros Donald explores the reasons behind this apparent change of heart. Graphic by Carbon Brief using data from the Department of Energy and Climate Change Top five challenges facing The UK Unemployment, 30% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% NHS, 19% Inflation/rising prices 12% Climate change 8% Energy supply 8% March 2012 March 2013 March 2014

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