Most voters want net zero but are concerned about its cost, says think tank

A report released today by centre-right think tank Onward suggests that two-thirds of voters want more action on climate change.

The report, title “Thin Ice? understanding voters’ support for net zero”, claims the zero agenda does not appear likely to become a significant dividing line in British politics, and that voters are near-unanimous in their belief of the need to act with urgency and the benefits of doing so.

However It also concluded that there is concern about how much the transition will cost voters, and how they may need to change their homes. Striking the right balance between decarbonising at pace and protecting consumers will be key.

The new study finds that two thirds of voters (67%) think the Government is not being bold enough in tackling climate change, while 78% believe that if we put off action on climate change now, it will be more costly in the future.

Voters from every age group, ethnicity, region and social grade, as well as both Leave and Remain and Conservative and Labour voters support bolder action in principle.

But it also found that support in principle softens in practice, particularly when people were questioned about making changes to their homes. Only 46% of those surveyed said they were “happy to pay higher prices for fuel and household items if it leads to less carbon being emitted into the atmosphere”, with nearly two thirds (64%) of 2019 Conservative voters opposed.

For example, net support for making every household install insulation and double glazing falls from +36% blind to -12% when the estimated cost of £8,000 per household is revealed.

The study also constructed a Net Zero Index, measuring support for different policies once the likely cost, perceived impact and relative urgency of each policy had been taken into account.

The index found that the UK constituency most supportive of net zero is Battersea in London, while the least supportive is Skegness in Lincolnshire.

Of the 30 most supportive constituencies, 25 are located within London and 50% of London’s constituencies feature in the top decile of constituencies when ranked by net zero support. In contrast, South West Yorkshire, Tees Valley, the Humber, Lincolnshire, East Anglia, the Black Country and some rural parts of the South West tend to be more sceptical.

Graduates and high earners are extremely supportive of net zero policies, and willing to pay higher taxes and prices, while low-income groups, non-graduates and lower social grades are more hesitant and are all net opposed to the idea of paying higher taxes or prices.

The index also suggested that voters in Red Wall constituencies are less positive about decarbonisation than the average person, but by no means sceptical. 48% of Red Wall voters think that there will be more jobs created than lost from net zero – broadly in line with the UK average of 50% – although only 55% believe climate change is one of the most important issues we face today versus 69% among all voters.

Labour voters who switched to the Conservatives in 2019 are far more persuaded of the importance of climate change than the average Conservative voter – with 61% saying the Government is not being bold enough compared to 56% for the average Conservative – and more supportive of every policy, including with costings.

Will Tanner, Director of Onward, said: “Net zero is not just an environmental challenge, it is also a political one. At the moment, voters not only support ministers in their efforts to decarbonise the UK by 2050, but want the Government to be more ambitious and urgent in their approach.

“But the new climate consensus is more fragile than it appears. Voters’ enthusiasm starts to ebb when confronted with details of the costs and disruption, and there is deep scepticism of the commitment of other countries.

“This makes negotiations in COP26 in Glasgow all the more important – not just to secure international commitments, but also to generate the investment and innovation needed to cut costs and prevent green policies pushing families into the red.”