A survey of more than 2,000 UK voters, in which all major political preferences were accounted for, has revealed that the majority of Brits want a “green” recovery from Covid-19, in which measures designed to boost the economy also serve to reduce pollution and emissions.
Conducted by Ipsos Mori on behalf of the Conservative Environment Network (CEN), the survey asked 2,178 people for their views on the environmental aspects of the UK’s Covid-19 recovery plan. This cohort was selected to ensure representation in line with the national population on gender, age, geographical location and political leaning.
More than two-thirds of the respondents (67%) said that a failure to tackle the UK’s existing social and environmental issues through new funding and policy measures would be “bad for the economy in the long-run”, reducing international competitiveness as green legislation strengthens globally, while leaving businesses and communities poorly prepared to weather future shocks. This view was held by 62% of those who voted Conservative at the 2019 general election.
Higher still was the proportion of respondents who said they would take a Covid-19 recovery package centred around high-carbon industries and infrastructure as a “sign that the government has got the wrong priorities” and “does not listen to ordinary people” – 69%. Support was found to be particularly low for stings-free bailouts for the road construction and car manufacturing sectors and particularly high for additional funding for the renewable energy generation and nature conservation sectors, on a national basis.
On a local basis, half of respondents said they would strongly support programmes to make schools, hospitals, care homes and housing more energy-efficient. Expanding local airports and road building were found to be the least popular projects, receiving just 6% and 9% support respectively.
The survey was carried out before Boris Johnson delivered his ‘build, build, build’ speech on Tuesday (30 June), in which he outlined the basic facets of the UK’s recovery package. While many key figures welcomed the package’s provisions on nature, healthcare and schools, the general consensus is that the plan is not yet “green”. Further specifics are due to be announced by the Treasury in the coming weeks.
“We have heard plenty of welcome green recovery rhetoric from ministers in recent months and from the Prime Minister himself in his speech this week,” CEN director Sam Hall said.
“To avoid voters’ disapproval, the Chancellor must use his statement to set out a comprehensive and ambitious package of measures to level up the country, create jobs, and get us on track to net-zero. This polling shows strong support for prioritising local green infrastructure over brown; I hope the government now seizes this opportunity to deliver on the people’s priorities for the recovery.”
Building back better
The results of the CEN survey are similar to those garnered from a recent poll of members of the UK’s Climate Assembly, who were chosen to resemble the national population in terms of both social demographics and views on environmental issues.
That poll found that 79% want the recovery package to be net-zero aligned in some way – whether through stress testing, conditional bailouts or changes to key tax and incentive schemes.
Some Assembly members (6%) strongly opposed a requirement for the recovery package to be tied to net-zero, largely due to concerns that this would slow down the UK’s economic recovery. But the overarching consensus was that climate change and the recession can be tackled jointly.
Similarly, when the CEN survey asked respondents whether a ‘green’ focus would slow or accelerate the UK’s economic recovery, just 11% said such an approach would “cost jobs and harm the economy”. 71% said the converse was true.
Optimism for low-carbon recovery measures was particularly pronounced in the North of England. Of the 600,000 UK workers removed from payrolls since lockdown began, those from the North East were particularly over-represented. Plans for a net-zero industrial cluster and regenerative agriculture schemes are notably underway for the region.