Transport

How far will people go to
tackle climate change?

  • One important way the public can help to reduce global warming is by changing their travel behaviour. Yet people seem increasingly sceptical about climate change and its causes. How far do they believe in man-made climate change – and are they willing to cut car or plane use to tackle it?

    SS_Transport _Intro _Right

    Highlights

  • Beliefs about climate change

    Most people believe that climate change is real, however public concern about the environmental impact of climate change has declined.

    Three in four people believe climate change is happening and that humans are, at least partly, responsible. A minority (16%) believe that climate change exists but is not man-made. Only 7% do not believe in climate change.

    SS_Transport _Fact1

    Highlights

  • Beliefs about climate change

    Most people believe that climate change is real, however public concern about the environmental impact of climate change has declined.

    Two in three say they are concerned about the effect of transport on climate change – compared with 80% seven years ago. The proportion agreeing that motoring and air travel have a serious impact on climate change has also declined.

    SS_Transport _Fact2

    Highlights

  • Air travel and car use

    Although most people believe in climate change, they are less certain about action to restrict air travel or car use.

    61% think people should be able to travel by plane as much as they like. 37% say air travel should be unrestricted even if new terminals or runways are needed. 18% favour unrestricted air travel even if it harms the environment.

    SS_Transport _Fact3

    Highlights

  • Air travel and car use

    Although most people believe in climate change, they are less certain about action to restrict air travel or car use.

    55% think everyone should reduce their car use for the sake of the environment. 47% see no point in reducing their car use unless others do the same. 28% say people should be allowed to use their cars as much as they like, even if it damages the environment.

    SS_Transport _Fact4

    Highlights

Introduction

As we saw in last year's British Social Attitudes report, the recent past has seen growing public scepticism about climate change (Taylor, 2011a). The climate change debate itself is well-rehearsed. On one side, the overwhelming majority of climate scientists and the world's leading scientific bodies stand in agreement that climate change is a significant threat to the planet and our way of life. While the causes are many and varied, 'greenhouse' gases (GHG) - especially carbon dioxide emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels - have been identified as the chief contributing factor. On the other side stand dissenting scientists, doubtful politicians and sceptical commentators. Their influence has been increased by controversies such as 'climategate'; even though the British climate scientists accused of manipulating and suppressing data were comprehensively cleared. The 'sceptics' have variously argued that man-made climate change is scientifically unproven, that the threat posed is exaggerated, or that there is little we can do to avert its predicted consequences.

The British public, while experiencing the most prolonged period of economic uncertainty since the 1930s, has had to contend with conflicting assertions about the veracity of climate change theory. In this context, last year's British Social Attitudes report found a 10-year increase from a quarter to more than a third in the proportion of people agreeing that many claims made about environmental threats have been exaggerated (Taylor, 2011a). While identifying significant concern for the impact of transport on climate change, the report also found a distinct lack
of support for financial penalties to reduce vehicle use, such as road pricing 
(Taylor, 2011b).

Politically, each of the main Westminster parties maintain that tackling climate change is a priority. Recent Coalition policy initiatives have included the establishment of a Green Investment Bank, energy efficiency measures for housing and reform of the energy market. Though often criticised for not going far enough, this package of measures is intended to have the dual benefit of encouraging growth in the UK economy and helping to reduce the UK's GHG emissions. Tensions have, nevertheless, been observed inside the Coalition. For example, a party conference speech in 2011 by the Chancellor, George Osborne, was accompanied by media reports that he is critical of the 'green agenda', regarding environmental regulation as an unacceptable burden on British industry.

Pullquote _Transport _1Legislation passed by the previous Labour government commits the UK to a 34 per cent reduction in GHG emissions from their 1990 levels by 2020, and an 80 per cent reduction by 2050. It is estimated that transport is responsible for roughly a quarter of UK carbon dioxide emissions, making it the second biggest contributor to GHG in the UK after energy production (Department of Energy and Climate Change, 2012). So if these challenging targets are to be met, it is clear that the transport sector will need to play a major part. Although GHG emissions from the sector peaked in 2007, and have since returned to roughly their 1990 levels, there is still a long way to go. Achieving a significant transformation will require strong action to 'decarbonise' transport, including the further development of emission-reducing technologies. But progress will also depend heavily on public opinion and whether the British people can be persuaded to make transport and travel choices that are less
environmentally damaging.

In examining the public's views about climate change and transport, this chapter pursues two main themes. Firstly, it investigates how far people accept the theory of climate change caused by humans and how their beliefs influence concerns about the effects of transport on the environment. It then explores the extent to which the public might be willing to change its transport and travel behaviour in 'greener' ways.

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Notes
  1. Speech by David Cameron at Department of Energy and Climate Change, www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/news/pn10_059/pn10_059.aspx
  2. This question does not ask specifically about car use, but is placed with other questions about road transport.

  3. It has previously been noted that those most concerned about the environment can often themselves be the most frequent flyers (Commission for Integrated Transport, 2007).

  4. Transport policy in Scotland is devolved so this would only apply in England and Wales.

  5. 
The multivariate analysis technique used was logistic regression - more details of the methods used can be found in the Technical details chapter of this report. Further details of the analysis results are available from the authors on request.
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