Earth Day

As the world observes Earth Day today, research by Energy Systems Catapult highlights that while 75% of people believe climate change is a serious threat, they are still unclear as to which activities in their lives emit carbon.

The theme for Earth Day 2020 is climate action. The enormous challenge — but also the vast opportunities — of action on climate change have distinguished the issue as the most pressing topic for the 50th anniversary.

According to the Energy Systems Catapult analysis, only 49% of people that participated in the research, realise that natural gas heating contributes to carbon emissions.

The study Understanding Net Zero: A consumer perspective forms part of the Innovating to Net Zero project that recently modelled 100s of potential pathways to achieve 2050 carbon targets.

Read more about:
Climate change
Carbon footprint

Over 2,000 people were surveyed in January 2020 and focus groups conducted to understand public attitudes, including:

  • Perceptions of climate change, its severity and what activity contributes to it
  • Attitudes towards low carbon technologies and behaviours in heating, diet and transport.

Matt Lipson, Energy Systems Catapult consumer insight business lead, said: “Most people believe that climate change is a big problem and accept they have a personal responsibility to do something about it. But this concern does not necessarily translate into understanding the biggest sources of carbon emissions or the actions that will make the most difference to cutting them…

“This research underlines the huge challenge of focusing the public’s willingness to tackle climate change on the areas where actions can make the most difference, and where progress is slower, such as transport and heating.”

Key findings from the research

What do you think about climate change?

  • 75% of people believe climate change is a global emergency
  • 84% of people think government should do something about climate change
  • 77% of people think individuals should take some responsibility

Choose all sources you think produce emissions that contribute to climate change?

  • 77% of people said transport – which is responsible for 27% of household emissions
  • 67% of people said air travel – 12% of household emissions
  • 53% of people said household waste – 3% of household emissions
  • 49% of people said agriculture – 18% of household emissions
  • 49% of people said gas central heating – 31% of household emissions

What actions would people consider taking to reduce their carbon emissions?

  • 41% of people would be willing to cut red meat and 29% dairy intake – by a quarter
  • 34% of people that flew last year would be willing to fly less often in the year ahead
  • 22% of people would consider switching to an electric car in the next year
  • Less than 20% of people would consider switching to low carbon heating

Which actions have people taken already?

  • 86% of people are recycling everything they can
  • 71% of people are trying to reduce the amount of single-use plastic
  • 36% of people had reduced red meat consumption recently (even if it was for health rather than climate reasons)
  • 3% of people had a hybrid and 2% had switched to a battery-powered electric vehicle
  • Less than 2% of people had switched their heating system to low carbon in recent years