What do the general public think about climate change and internationalism?

Stephanie Draper shares the outcomes of three citizen panels held last month on the UK's role in the necessarily international combat against climate change. This is the third of a series of blogpost reflections on the subject of public engagement and climate action, which will be authored by invited partners in the lead-up to COP26 in November.
Citizen panel hosted by Bond in Wakefield in September.

In the citizen panels Bond held in northern England and the West Midlands last month, we asked a representative cross section of the population for their views on the role of the UK in the international combat against climate change. Having been provided with information about climate change and the countries most vulnerable to its consequences, the panel members discussed the UK’s approach to supporting international climate action. What should the UK do to support other countries in their own response to climate change? Indeed, what should its role be in tackling major international challenges like health and famine?

I learned a lot from discussing with people for whom these issues are not their day-to-day business. There was mixed awareness, but as people understood the challenges and the level of disruption that climate change is going to bring, a demand for action soon became clear and unanimous.

Across all the groups there was consensus that something must be done and that the UK should take a leadership role on the issue of climate change. Most participants agreed that the UK, as part of the presidency of COP26, should hold itself and other countries to account.  There was also a majority who favoured support for poorer countries who, though the lowest emitters, are being impacted the most.  That support could be financial or technical and, like aid more broadly, was contingent on being effectively spent. There were lots of ideas and areas of debate. One group wanted a focus on an accountability mechanism for every country through the UN. Those who were financially minded were focused on how carbon trading could work to validate emissions targets, with plenty of support all-around for secure investments in renewables. There was also a push for big business to do more.

The big concerns were inevitably cost and who pays. At the time the panels took place, income tax rises in the UK had just been announced, and people did not want to see the cost of leadership coming out of further tax rises. Participants were generally looking for a carrot and stick approach, in the UK and abroad.  Some people were firmer on taking bold action to drive behaviour change, whilst others were nervous about the additional burden or level of change they might have to make.

Information and awareness were two other key points of discussion. Though people agreed that climate action needs to be a collective endeavour, they were not confident that people would want to change. Misinformation on social media and inevitable backlash were named as clear deterrents.

In a time when it can sometimes seem as if views are polarised, the discussions were heartening: there was much more that united people than divided them. Everyone showed pride in the UK and saw leadership on climate action as a necessary part of the national identity going forward. There are caveats over the extent of that leadership and who pays, but the overall message to the Prime Minister and the President of the COP is that the public is behind them. Now, government just need to make sure they fully into step into their leadership.


Stephanie Draper is Chief Executive at Bond, the UK network for organisations working in international development.