Tide has turned: Aussies worry about climate change as much as Covid

A new national survey shows Australians are just as concerned about climate change as Covid, although regional Queensland remains off the national pace in demanding climate change action.

Nov 10, 2021, updated Nov 10, 2021
A new comprehensive study by Griffith University has found Australians as concerned about climate change as they are about Covid. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

A new comprehensive study by Griffith University has found Australians as concerned about climate change as they are about Covid. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

In startling findings, the most comprehensive survey into Australians’ experiences, attitudes and actions on climate change shows a carbon tax to fund renewable energy has widespread and majority support. The majority of Australians also support phasing out all fossil fuel mining.

But, in a gap not unlike Queensland’s come-from-behind Covid vaccination rate, the state also lags behind the national tally in what survey respondents say they want done about climate change.

The initial findings come from Griffith University’s five-year National Climate Action Survey, which aims to capture changing perceptions about climate change and climate action.

Associate Professor Graham Bradley from Griffith’s Climate Action research group said the survey would be repeated over five years to track Australia’s evolving climate change beliefs.

The survey was conducted between 15 September and 31 October and involved more than 4000 adults across the country.

It found 63.2 per cent of people were concerned about Covid, which compared to 63.1 per cent of people who were concerned about climate change.

The study found that nationwide, 82 per cent of people believe in climate change.  It found 72 per cent were concerned about climate change and 79 per cent support net zero carbon emissions.

“It may have been that Australian people have been a bit ambivalent about the existence of climate change, their concerns and what we should do about it,” Bradley said.

“But the tide has changed, the pendulum has definitely swung. It is now clear the majority of people believe in climate change, the majority of people are concerned about climate change, and the majority of people want action on climate change.”

He said 71 per cent of survey respondents supported a carbon tax to fund investment in renewable energy.

“We used the word tax very deliberately, and 71 per cent of people said ‘yes, we are in favour of a carbon tax’,” Bradley said.

The survey found, perhaps surprisingly, that 63 per cent of Liberal voters were in favour of a carbon tax. This compared to 93 per cent of Greens voters and 81 per cent of Labor voters. It even included 47 per cent of One Nation voters responding that they were in favour of a tax on carbon.

Amid a political firestorm, the Gillard Government introduced Australia’s carbon price in 2012 that aimed to cut Australia’s emissions between 2000 and 2020 by 5 per cent by forcing about 500 of the biggest polluters to pay for each tonne of carbon dioxide they emitted. The carbon tax was repealed by the Abbott Government in 2014.

Independent studies have since shown that, had the carbon price stayed in place, Australia’s carbon emissions would have been 25 million tonnes lower by 2020 and total emissions between 2015 and 2020 would have been cut by 72 million tonnes.

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Bradley said the survey found while Queensland’s climate change responses were less committed than the national, it was mainly regional Queensland that was dragging the figures down.

“There are consistent differences, but they are relatively small. If we asked, ‘do you think the world’s climate is changing?’, we found 82 per cent of Australians said yes. That compared to 79 per cent of Queenslanders,” he said.

“Broken down further, the same question was answered yes by 82 per cent of Brisbaneites, so the same as the national result, but that compared to 76 per cent for the rest of Queensland.”

Bradley said 72 per cent of Australians said they were concerned about climate change, compared to 66 per cent of Queenslanders.

The survey found 67 per cent of people nationally were in favour of phasing out all fossil fuel mining over the next 10 years.

In Queensland the overall figure was 62 per cent, with 66 per cent of people in Brisbane saying they were in favour of a fossil fuel phase out compared to 55 per cent of Queenslanders outside Brisbane.

Bradley said the first phase of this five-year study already showed a significant difference to the results of a one-off survey he conducted in 2011.

In that study 10 years ago, the percentage of people who said they were concerned about climate change was 34 per cent, he said.

“The percentage who were concerned then was 34 per cent and now it’s 72 per cent,” Bradley said. “It’s clear the tide has turned.”


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