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ClientEarth Communications

20th August 2018

Climate accountability

British public supports urgent action and litigation on climate change – poll reveals

The British public wants urgent action on climate change, and strongly supports holding fossil fuel companies and the UK government accountable for the negative effects of climate change, a groundbreaking new survey from ClientEarth reveals.

After a record heatwave in the UK and northern Europe, the majority of British people think fossil fuel companies, whose products contribute directly to climate change, should be made to pay damages for their role in contributing to global warming (71%), and also that the UK government must do more to help prepare for and adapt to climate change (62%).

Undertaken by YouGov and commissioned by environment lawyers ClientEarth, the survey aimed to capture British public sentiment towards who should pay for climate change, fossil fuel investments in personal finance and what the future of Britain’s energy should look like.

Key results of ClientEarth’s Climate Snapshot include:

  • Almost two-thirds of people think the UK government is not doing enough in adapting to climate change and limiting global temperature increases;
  • More than eight in ten believe that fossil fuel companies who knew about climate change early on and continue to lobby against taking action should be responsible in some way for the costs of major weather events (83%);
  • Three-fifths would be interested in a financial institution, such as a bank account or pension fund, that considers the climate change impacts of the companies it invests in (62%).
  • Almost two-thirds thought investing in fossil fuel companies was risky long-term and more than half thought such companies could not be trusted to change their business model;
  • More than two thirds were in favour of breaking up the Big Six’s market share to allow smaller, cleaner, and locally owned energy systems to develop (68%); and,
  • Almost three quarters of consumers would be interested in joining a community energy scheme if the government made it easier (71%), and individuals keen to install their own solar panels (62%) and home energy storage (60%).

ClientEarth CEO James Thornton said: “These results make it clear that the British public want action on climate change, and urgently. A majority of people expect more from the government and believe that fossil fuel companies should pay for damages resulting from extreme weather events. People in this country also see a strong role for the courts in holding business and the government to account if they don’t act quickly enough.

“The government can take the lead on climate quickly by cutting off the hundreds of millions of pounds in annual subsidies to fossil fuel power stations and other schemes that are giving carbon-intensive power generation an unfair advantage over renewables.

“Making people’s homes more energy efficient is also a key way of tackling overall emissions and this poll shows that there is strong public support for doing so – the government has no excuse for dragging its feet on this.

“These results also have strong implications for business: the litigation risk for fossil fuel companies and those who invest in them is likely to grow and investors should take note – the costs of defending actions on climate change are likely to be substantial and the damages involved, should a company be required to pay, could be enormous.

“Our survey also revealed that the financial world has much work to do if they are to match consumers’ wishes. The British public said quite clearly they want their banks and pension funds to avoid investments in fossil fuel projects, and were surprised to learn that this might be the case.”

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2005 UK adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 20th and 24th July. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).