Britons feel more threatened by Russia than climate change

British people feel less threatened by climate change now than they did in 2010, a survey by Chatham House reveals

Pic: World Economic Forum/Flickr

Pic: World Economic Forum/Flickr

By Sophie Yeo

British people feel their way of life is more threatened by Russia, North Korea and Iran than by climate change.

This is the finding of a survey compiled by UK think-tank Chatham House on British attitudes towards foreign policy issues.

Just 20% of the British public consider global warming one of the top threats facing their country at the moment.

This ranks below international terrorism (51%), countries such as Iran and North Korea developing nuclear weapons (32%), organised crime (29%) and conflict with Russia (25%).

It also shows a decline in concern from previous years – in 2010, 25% of people believed it was a top threat – despite increasingly urgent warnings from scientists about the impact of rising emissions.

“I suppose the reason is that climate change is seen, and I believe incorrectly, either as no threat at all or a very slowly germinating one, whereas Russia is seen, rightly or wrongly, as being at the moment an aggressor state that changes borders unilaterally, which has nuclear weapons and an increasingly dictatorial president,” said James Nixey, head of the Russia and Eurasia programme at Chatham House.

“Therefore, in the public’s minds, if you add that to cold war stereotypes, then that is why one is considerably more in the forefront of British minds than climate change.”

Leading thinkers

On the other hand, the surveyed “opinion formers” – leaders from business, media, politics, academia, science and the arts – ranked climate change more highly as a threat.

Of the 704 questioned, 33% said that climate change was one of the greatest threats facing the British way of life, compared to just 11% on conflict with Russia and 24% on the nuclear expansion of Iran and North Korea.

International terrorism and cyber security again ranked well above climate change as a concern, at 52% and 42% respectively. And 39% ranked long term scarcity of natural resources such as water, food and land – problems exacerbated by climate change – as a key threat.

As with the general public, opinion formers were less concerned about climate change than a few years ago – down from 44% in 2010.

There was still broad support in the UK for international climate action, with 56% of the general public holding the belief that it should help to lead the global response. This view was held by 82% of Liberal Democrats, 63% of Labour voters and 50% of Conservatives.

Even UKIP voters – whose party policy is to repeal the 2008 Climate Change Act – had some sympathy with the sentiment. Four out of 10 wanted to see Britain at the helm of climate action, compared to 35% who opposed it.

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