Skip to content
Search
Type
Infrastructure blog

How easily does the British public find it to take personal action on climate change?

Date
28 June 2022

A public poll shows changing perceptions on how easy it is to reduce carbon emissions, following the pandemic. 

How easily does the British public find it to take personal action on climate change?
A number of factors are affecting people's ability to invest in things like solar panels. Image credit: Pexels/Centre for Ageing Better

Around two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions are directly or indirectly linked to household consumption.

An analysis of demand-side solutions for reducing emissions identified 10 of the most impactful actions the public can take to reduce their household emissions.

In the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ICE surveyed the public as part of our State of the Nation 2020 report on infrastructure and the UK's 2050 net-zero target to see how easy the public would find it to act in these 10 areas.

The table below shows the results.

Table showing YouGov responses to climate action responses 2020
Table 1: how easy or difficult do you think it is to do each of these things to cut carbon emissions? (June 2020) Image credit: YouGov

The easiest areas included flying less and using more energy-efficient cooking appliances and equipment.

The most challenging areas were living car-free and switching to a vegan diet.

At the time, politicians were talking about building back greener from the pandemic.

We outlined the need for a net-zero education and awareness-raising campaign for the built environment.

We suggested using lessons from the public awareness campaign in the Icelandic Climate Strategy.

The UK government's report Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener included a section on empowering the public to make green choices. COP26 in Glasgow would have helped to raise the profile of the need for action as well.

A significant shift in perception

In May 2022, with the UK looking to move on from the pandemic, we reran the same public poll.

It showed a significant shift in perception.

Table showing YouGov responses to climate action responses 2022
Table 2: how easy or difficult do you think it is to do each of these things to cut carbon emissions? (May 2022) Image credit: YouGov

Across all the 10 areas, the public finds it just as difficult or more difficult to make positive changes compared to the results in June 2020.

In particular, the results show a majority in all regions say they would find it difficult to live car-free.

Meanwhile in the Midlands and Wales (48%) and the North (49%), using public transport more is seen as difficult.

Table showing YouGov responses to climate action responses 2022 regional breakdown
Table 3: how easy or difficult do you think it is to do each of these things to cut carbon emissions? (May 2022 regional breakdown) Image credit: YouGov

What needs to happen next?

Some of these results are unsurprising and cover issues to do with the access and funding.

The poor availability of safe, affordable and reliable public transport in the Midlands and the North is one of the reasons why the Integrated Rail Plan was developed. It looks at how to get the benefits of improved regional rail connectivity more quickly.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure and ICE Green Paper research programme is currently seeking views on workable solutions to speed up the delivery of the IRP.

Our Next Steps Programme on public transport funding after Covid-19 has looked in detail at the funding issue.

Unless a new funding model is found, public transport operators will have to continue with reduced services, or cut services in the future.

This may have prompted many to rethink plans for public transport use.

The cost of living impact

Separately, the rising cost of living driven by an increase in inflation will have made people less likely to spend money on significant new investments.

For example, in areas such as shifting to electric vehicles or improving household energy efficiency.

ONS data shows the UK household saving ratio, built up significantly during the pandemic, had already unwound and returned to trend levels by 2021q4.

Meanwhile, at the 2022 Spring Statement, we thought government action on removing VAT from energy-saving home improvements would help convince households to invest.

But this was only if they can afford it, and this looks more and more difficult as inflation ticks up.

Energy efficiency

Other policy announcements, such as the British Energy Security Strategy, did not focus much on energy efficiency. Even though this is the biggest opportunity to reduce energy bills, while supporting climate change.

This area is where a majority of the public in every region say they would find it difficult to do.


The Integrated Rail Plan has a key role to play in achieving long-term UK objectives, including the Levelling Up missions and the move to net zero.

There is little time to lose in delivering the major strategic infrastructure projects needed to achieve those goals.

In light of this urgency and the need to address those outstanding questions, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure and the ICE have launched a new research programme.

We want to hear from civil engineers, infrastructure professionals and other stakeholders about the workable solutions to speed up the delivery of the IRP.

  • Chris Richards, director of policy at Institution of Civil Engineers