Current Projects

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

Background

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.

Aims

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.

Methods

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