Climate of the nation 2013: Australian attitudes on climate change

Climate change Power resources Australia

This report argues that a growing majority of Australians think that their country should be a leader in finding climate solutions.

Executive summary

Since 2007, The Climate Institute has conducted comprehensive research into Australian attitudes to climate change and related policies. We have published a number of Climate of the Nation reports tracking attitudes and actions as they have evolved. This year’s report builds off a quantitative poll conducted in early June and rolling qualitative research over the last 12 months.

The 2012 research was conducted in the heat of the toxic and speculative debate leading up to the introduction of the carbon laws.

A year later we find that two-thirds of Australians think that climate change is occurring and almost all of them believe that it is impacting Australia now. People are genuinely worried about the cost impacts of extreme weather and climate change on everyday concerns such as crop production and food supply, insurance premiums, water shortages and climate refugees.

Climate change is not perceived as a major issue in this election, but it is also clear that there is no basis from which to call the election a “referendum on the carbon tax”.

Only around a third of Australians think that the carbon laws should be repealed and more oppose a double dissolution to get rid of them than support one. The “carbon tax” itself is not a major reason for supporting a Coalition vote. “Economic mismanagement”, “lies and incompetence” and the “carbon tax lie” are cited as far stronger reasons.

Opposition to carbon pricing is dropping. While support remains soft, it strengthens significantly when the policy is explained. This matches the findings of other recent polls.

A year into the laws, there is evidence that Australians do not believe that carbon pricing has been as financially detrimental as they anticipated. This holds true at both the household and national level. While a smaller majority still think they are worse off, those that think they are much worse off has dropped significantly.

Overall, cynicism and confusion about carbon pricing is still dominant. But it is decreasing, perhaps because of some recognition of declining national emissions and increased renewable energy investment since the start of the laws.

Today, more people want to give carbon pricing a go than get rid of it. Indeed, more Australians want greater action and leadership than in recent years. This is a departure from a year ago, when Climate of the Nation 2012 found an electorate that was largely fatigued with the politics of climate change and scared about the rising costs of living.

This year the number of those agreeing that Australia should be a world leader in finding solutions to climate change is significantly higher, and in fact higher than in April 2010, immediately prior to the deferral of emissions trading legislation. Despite the toxic politics, 60 per cent still think the Federal Government should be playing a leading role.

Only 6-8 per cent of Australians believe that local, state or federal government should take no action.

Strong majorities recognise that doing nothing on climate change will increase the risks and that there are economic opportunities in acting in areas like renewable energy. Significantly, appreciation of the economic benefits and jobs associated with a strong renewable energy industry is not contingent on acceptance of climate change, or even that humans are responsible for it.

Despite some attacks on renewable energy, wind in particular, there is overwhelming support for renewables. That enthusiasm is high across ALP, Green and Coalition voters. Support this year is even stronger for wind and solar as preferred energy sources. Support for both nuclear and coal has declined, while Australians remain divided over gas.

Results from the focus groups and national poll behind Climate of the Nation 2013 indicate a clear acceptance that climate change is happening and that humans are contributing to it. Twice as many trust the science than don’t.

There remains confusion about carbon pricing, however, and most Australians still believe that there are too many conflicting claims amongst scientists for the public to be certain. This is despite the fact that 97 per cent of published climate research accepts the science¹. Almost as many think the seriousness of climate change is exaggerated as do not.

Notwithstanding these differences of opinion, the underlying call for climate action is relatively resilient. It may grow stronger after the election, with the issue of the “carbon tax lie” resolved along with an emerging understanding of reduced emissions, increasing renewable energy investment and growing international carbon and clean energy policies.

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