Results of latest Ipsos Mori poll published as COP26 President Sharma pledges the UK will work to ensure all countries signed up to new Glasgow Climate Pact honour their promises

Climate change, the environment, and pollution is now the British public’s number one issue, with concern around environmental issues exceeding concerns over the economy and the Covid-19 pandemic for the first time, according to fresh polling from Ipsos Mori.

A poll of more than 1,000 adults published today found that 40 per cent of respondents picked climate change, environment, and pollution as one of their top three issues of concern, beating the pandemic at 27 per cent and Brexit at 22 per cent.

Concern about climate and the environment has escalated rapidly in recent years, according to the findings, which note that the number of people who have identified it as a ‘top issue’ has quadrupled since 2018.

Leo Barasi, former pollster and author of The Climate Majority, said the findings highlighted a “remarkable turnaround in public opinion”.

“Four years ago the environment wasn’t even a top 15 issue with the public, with only seven per cent naming it as a top priority,” he said. “Since then we’ve had a string of heatwaves and floods, UN science reports and mass public protests – and opinion has changed dramatically.”

Ipsos Mori’s questionnaire, which polls people on their top concerns and allows for an ‘open response’ to encourage respondents to come up with their own answers, reveals that citizens of all ages, locations, and socio-economic backgrounds are united in having high levels of concern around climate change.

Climate and environment is now the top issue for working class C2DE voters, Conservative voters, and voters over the age of 55, according to the research, despite widespread perceptions that concern over the environment is concentrated among middle class, left-leaning, and younger voters.

Barasi said the results also demonstrated there was “overwhelming public support” for the net zero agenda in the UK. “There’s a close link between people seeing climate change as a top issue and them supporting policies to address it, like banning polluting cars and boilers,” he said.

His comments were echoed by Ben Margolis, director at The Climate Coalition campaign group, who said the “findings paint a clear picture of just how concerned the British public is about climate change”.

“As its impacts are being seen more vividly, and more frequently around us, whether that be floods, wildfires or extreme storms, this concern is only going to grow,” he predicted. “This will mean increasing pressure on government and politicians from the public to act at the speed and scale required to limit warming of our planet, protect and restore our natural world, and support those on the frontlines of climate change. And that starts with Rishi Sunak unlocking the money to do so, and every department pulling in the same direction. The public mandate for decisive and ambitious action from the government has never been stronger, so it’s about time the Prime Minister and Chancellor get on with the job.”

The results of the survey are published the same week that COP26 President Alok Sharma pledged that the UK would now work to ensure countries around the world deliver on the promises they made at the COP6 Climate Summit, arguing that the nation’s work as Summit President is “really only just beginning” in the wake of the conference.

Returning to a metaphor he used at the close of the Glasgow Summit earlier this month, Sharma noted in an opinion piece published in the Guardian yesterday that hopes of delivering on the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C temperature limit were still alive but “its pulse remains weak”.

“We must steer it to safety by ensuring countries deliver on the promises they have made, and on the expectations set out in this pact to increase climate ambition to 2030 and beyond,” he said.

The Glasgow Climate Pact, signed by all countries at the COP26 Climate Summit, calls on parties to deliver strengthened national climate action plans in line with a 1.5C trajectory by the end of 2022 and step up their efforts to “phase down” unabated coal power plants and end “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies. It has also called for richer countries to meet their $100bn a year climate finance commitment and channel a greater proportion of funding to adaptation projects.

The UK, which retains the Presidency until the COP27 Climate Summit starts in Egypt next November, will be tasked with corralling countries to deliver on the various new commitments set out in the pact.

Sharma wrote that the UK would take an active role over the coming year to holding countries to account. “Over the course of the next year, we will work with countries, urging them to take action and honour their promises,” he said. “There is no formal policing process in the UN framework convention on climate change system, and so we must keep up the constructive pressure, and build on the trust and goodwill generated through COP26.”

The challenge facing the UK and other climate diplomats over the coming year became clear within hours of the Summit closing, after Australia, New Zealand, and others made clear they had no intention of updating their NDCs before COP27.

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