Australians are no climate dinosaurs Opinion Article

Jun 27, 2014 - 9:00am

This article first appeared in Open Forum on 27 June 2014. 

Kristina Stefanova  
Communications Director, The Climate Institute

Since 2007, The Climate Institute has produced the Climate of the Nation report taking the Australian public’s pulse on climate change, its impacts and solutions. The research has shown the ebb and flow of opinions as the nation has weathered the physical impacts of climate change (droughts, floods, fires) and the fallout of an ongoing and fierce political debate. We found that 2012 – on the eve of the introduction of the carbon laws – was the low point across a range of public attitude indicators on climate change.

This year’s research finds that a much stronger majority of Australians accept that climate change is occurring: 70% today, up 6 points from 2012. Only 13% disagree, a drop of 4%. Most of those who agree that climate change is occurring say that this is at least partly caused by humans (84%).

Many Australians are concerned that a range of potentially wide-reaching consequences, economic and environmental, may affect the way we live. Almost two-thirds (64%) agree that ignoring climate change is simply not an answer, as it increases the risk of the situation getting worse.

Australians believe that the federal government shoulders the greatest responsibility for leading a response to climate change but that it’s doing a poor job. Trust is particularly low for the Prime Minister: only 20% agree that they trust Tony Abbott when he says he is concerned about addressing climate change, while 53% disagree. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten fares only slightly better: 31% say that they trust Shorten when he says he is concerned about climate change; 32% disagree.

One of the most significant evolutions in views over the last couple of years has been in Australians’ desire for the nation to be a leader in climate change solutions. That’s at 61% this year, a level not seen in 2008, and on the up for the second consecutive year. Ambition for Australia’s 2020 emissions reduction target is up too: 46% now believe that an emissions reduction target of 5% by 2020 is too low (up 14 points since 2012). Only 8% think it’s too high (down from 17% in 2012).

A majority (56%) agree that Australia should participate in a new international agreement like the Kyoto Protocol to reduce global emissions.

When it comes to solutions to climate change, Climate of the Nation 2014 finds that for the first time, more Australians support the carbon pricing laws (34%) than oppose them (30%).

Almost half of Australians (47%) think that carbon pricing is a better solution than taking no action, up 5 points from 2013 and 8 points from 2012. Almost as many (44%) say that carbon pricing should be given a chance to work for at least a few years.

More Australians prefer to keep it over replacing it with the government’s proposed “Direct Action” policy (26% vs 20%) but a majority couldn’t decide between the two options.  Only 22% think that “Direct Action” is a credible policy.

This polling confirms previous research which found that the government really has no mandate to repeal carbon pricing. It follows an exit poll on Election Day, which found that the election was not a "referendum on the carbon tax", with the issue relegated below many others.

Today only a third of Australians (34%) support repeal, down 14 points from 2012. Disagreement with the proposition that carbon pricing should be repealed is at 27%, virtually unchanged.

Renewable energy is the solution for which there is resilient, strong support. Solar, wind and hydro have topped the charts as ideal energy options for three years now. Coal, nuclear and gas continue to be least supported.

Despite the fragmenting of previously bipartisan support for renewable energy and growing attacks from fossil fuel-based energy utilities, a substantial majority of Australians (76%) agree that “state governments should be putting in place incentives for more renewable energy such as wind farms.” Only 10% disagree.

Most want the Renewable Energy Target (RET) to be more ambitious, rather than weakened as the government has suggested. Some 29% want to see the RET increased to 30% or above, 31% agree to keep the RET as is at 20-30% and 11% would like to see the target set at exactly 20%. Only 4% wanted a decrease in the RET, while 5% want it scrapped altogether.

*This year’s research is based on a nationally representative online poll of 1,145 Australians over the age of 18, conducted 16-20 May, by JWS Research. 

Kristina Stefanova

Kristina has more than a decade of experience working with public and private sector stakeholders on a variety of partnership models, and in communications in Australia, the US, UK and across regions.

Kristina has worked for the World Bank, US Agency for International Development, UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and the Global CCS Institute. She has also helped start-up a leading environmental markets investment and advisory business in Australia, and -- in a previous professional life -- was a print journalist in Washington DC. 

Kristina holds an MsC from the London School of Economics.

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