Completed Projects

Public perceptions of the health risks of climate change and priorities for action
PI: Professor Hilary Graham, University of York
flood sign on a flooded road


Climate change is placing people’s health at risk. Rising global temperatures are increasing the frequency, duration and severity of extreme weather events in the UK, including flooding and heat waves. The greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are driving up global temperatures are also the major source of poor air quality.

In democratic societies, the mandate for government action comes from the public. Taking account of public perspectives and concerns also facilitates effective policy making. However, little is known about public perceptions of health and climate change or about their priorities for government action.


Focusing on adults in the UK, the project aims to provide evidence on:

  • people’s perceptions of the health impacts of climate change
  • their priorities for action by government to address the health impacts of climate change
  • their willingness to pay (WTP)¹ to reduce the health impacts of climate change

The project timeline (April 2020-March 2022) meant it was conducted against the backdrop of the COVID-19 epidemic and the associated restrictions on people’s lives. The first national lockdown was imposed in March 2020, with ‘stay at home’ measures involving the closure of schools, workplaces and public amenities and restrictions on personal movement and social interaction outside the home. Restrictions continued through 2020, with further national lockdowns in 2021.

The project’s timeframe also included the meeting of the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in November 2021 in Glasgow. This major global forum generated extensive coverage in the UK national press (our analyses) and on social media. The timing of COP26 therefore provided an opportunity to examine whether, in the context of COVID-19, increased climate change coverage was associated with increased public concern.


We conducted UK-wide quantitative surveys of adults aged ≥18 years, and a qualitative study of those aged ≥15 years living in England.

Conducted across 2021 and early 2022, the quantitative surveys addressed all three of the project aims: perceptions of the health impacts of climate change, priorities for action and willingness to pay. Surveys were conducted via Qualtrics, an online survey platform that provides access to a UK-wide panel of people aged ≥18 years who have agreed to be contacted about participation in surveys. Quota-controlled recruitment was used to match the national UK population for gender, age group, ethnic group, educational attainment and location (UK country/England region.

Conducted in 2021, the qualitative study focused on perceptions of the health impacts of climate change and priorities for action. Participants living in urban and rural locations were recruited via community organisations. Based on IMD (Indicators of Multiple Deprivation), a measure of relative deprivation at small local area level, the sample was skewed, with a higher proportion living in both the least and most deprived deciles. With respect to its health profile, the sample was more evenly distributed across deciles.

Principal Investigator

Professor Hilary Graham

Research Team

    Advisory Group

    Jennifer Bostock, Public Health Policy Research Unit co-lead for public involvement

    Dr Jacqui Cotton, National Community Resilience Manager, Environment Agency

    Dr Emer O’Connell, Consultant in Public Health, UKHSA

    Lottie Oram, Lead Analyst Health Disparities, Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC)

    Joel Moffat, Lead Analyst Public Health Systems and Strategy (DHSC)

    Adele Rae, General Manager, Kirkstall Valley Development Trust

    Dr Harriet Smith, Social Researcher, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

    Matt Bain, Social Researcher, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

    Dr Rupert Suckling, Director of Public Health, Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council

    Dr Dagmar Zeuner, Director of Public Health, London Borough of Merton