As the Met Office issues another amber extreme heat warning for the coming weekend, is the public finally waking up to the reality of climate change? In June 2020, scientists predicted that the likelihood of the UK experiencing deadly 40C temperatures for the first time was “rapidly accelerating” due to the climate crisis - with each subsequent year breaking new temperature records until in July 2022, the UK officially reached the 40C mark. The Met Office has also released data showing that July saw the driest month since records began in 1836 in south-east and central southern England. Furthermore, it is expected that this is the new normal as another 4-day heat wave and extreme heat warning issued for this week. More evidence pointing to this trend as the new normal can be observed in the UK’s national meteorological service increasing the heatwave threshold by 1°C for eight counties, demonstrating an expectation that the heat is here to stay.
Scientists have confirmed the link between climate change intensification and increase in heat waves, but does experiencing a 40-degree heatwave for the first time change how people feel about the climate crisis? A recent Savanta survey for The Independent suggests that it does - but there is still little agreement on who is responsible for making the changes needed to address the climate crisis.
After the heatwave, nearly 70% of respondents said they were more convinced that more needs to be done to tackle climate change. This same proportion said the climate crisis should be one of the government’s top priorities.
We should welcome the fact that people are starting to understand the link between climate change and extreme weather. What’s less positive is that this doesn’t necessarily translate to any change in personal behaviour. Although seven in 10 people say the UK’s record-breaking heatwave has convinced them more needs to be done to tackle the climate crisis, only a smaller proportion said the heatwave had persuaded them to eat less meat and dairy (30%), fly less (32%) or invest in electric cars (36%) or heat pumps (23%).
And despite the demand from voters for politicians to prioritise action, there seems to be limited appetite at the top of Government for dramatic change to be led from Downing Street. While 70% of respondents want the Government to do more, the Conservative leadership contenders Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have been widely criticised by environmentalists and climate campaigners for the lack of a strong climate agenda in their campaigns to be Britain’s next prime minister.
The takeaway is the clear message that within the current system, people won’t make good climate decisions, but that they want the government to change the system. This personal responsibility deficit, however, cannot simply be solved or replaced by government action.
It is important to understand that such government action is about creating the regulatory framework within which individual and business decision making is aligned with best climate outcome – i.e. the decision that’s good for the climate is also the decision with the most benefit to the business.
This survey demonstrates the mandate the government has for more ambitious climate action. Let’s hope they take it - as will become increasingly clear with every scorching day, we need urgent action and accountability, and we need to reach Net Zero now.