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A Britain Talks Climate Q&A

By David Powell on May 23, 2024

Your questions answered! We recently shared our updated Britain Talks Climate toolkit and hosted a launch webinar to share our findings. Here, we share some answers to your questions from the webinar, exploring what’s changed, polarisation, and questions on how best to communicate with audiences in light of the findings.

Photo credit: SolStock

Q: You produced the first Britain Talks Climate in 2020. What’s changed since then? 

Our 2024 update means we can look at what’s changed over this Parliament in how people think and feel about climate change in the UK. One of the most remarkable things is that despite the turmoil of the last few years, the appetite for climate and nature action remains strong, right across the seven segments. But there are a few notable differences. 

The big one is the backdrop of the cost of living crisis. People are much more worried about money, and the cost of living was the top worry for every single segment going into the next election. We heard plenty of concern from people – particularly on lower incomes – that things like heat pumps are still too expensive, or not a priority during a time of rising costs. 

We have also seen trust in institutions like the government fall slightly over the last four years, continuing a long term trend. This affects views about climate policy but is far from unique to climate change. Trust is complex. The good news is that people still think in principle that it’s the job of national and local governments to act on climate change, and that they still can. But there’s no escaping a general mood of gloom about politics and institutions right now, particularly from more distrustful segments like Disengaged Traditionalists. 

Q: Your data seems to show that people don’t think it’s a priority to do important things like “getting banks and pensions to act in an environmentally-friendly way”. Is that right? What can communicators do about that?

Ranking of most and least important climate and environment issues for the UK government to prioritise, relative to each other

We asked people to rank the above list of potential climate policies as to which they thought were the highest priority. Being lower down this list doesn’t mean people think the policy is unimportant per se – rather that it was seen as less of a priority than the others, as we described it.

Why is “getting banks and pensions to act in an environmentally-friendly way” at the bottom?  What this probably shows is that while getting your pension (if you have one) out of fossil fuels is one of the most important things any of us can do, it’s less immediately intuitive and visceral compared to other things on that list. Broadly speaking, as we go down the list, the description of policies becomes more abstract or technical. 

Great climate communications makes people feel something, about something specific and important to them. We know that people in Britain feel very strongly about pollution – something we can taste and see. So it’s not surprising that anything that feels like stopping pollution ranks highly. And we also know that protecting nature, top of this list, is the number one reason people give for why we need to act on climate change. 

Whatever you’re talking about, the trick is to bring the topic to life, and tell human stories that spark the things your audience instinctively cares about. This applies as much to issues like getting a great outcome from a COP, or international climate justice, as to banks or pensions. It can be done and there are loads of great examples, such as the Oblivia Coalmine video, which elicited emotion and brought the topic to life.

Q: What does your research tell us about polarisation on climate change? Is it increasing, and what should we do about it?

The good news is that the UK is less politically polarised than some countries, including on climate change. As we say in this blog, remember that concern about climate change cuts right across young and old, rich and poor, and political persuasion.  It’s easy to forget that sometimes, particularly if we spend too long on X (formerly Twitter). 

But there are some signs that polarisation is increasing. It’s not dramatic, but compared to 2020 there are bigger differences between the views of those segments that are the least and most galvanised by climate action (Disengaged Traditionalists and Progressive Activists). For example, Disengaged Traditionalists are the least likely segment to agree that political parties should prioritise working together on climate change (39%). Meanwhile Progressive Activists tend to be considerably more in support of any specific climate policy than the country as a whole.

Feelings towards hypothetical climate policies and actions the government could take, by segment.

Some people, like Disengaged Traditionalists, feel particularly strongly that changes to transport or heating will be more bad news for them personally than good, and are worried about cost. It’s true that these feelings are being deliberately stoked by climate delayers, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing in it. 

At root of what’s going on are different ideas and worries about whether climate action will be fair, and to whom. Our ideas of fairness run deep, and really matter in defining our views on pretty much everything, climate included. It’s never been more important for climate policy to feel like it’s fair for everyone – both in how policies are designed, and how they are communicated.

Q: Have you shared this research with political parties?

Yes. We regularly meet with national and local politicians, activists and advisors from all the main parties, and advise them on how to get the political climate story right. We urge them to remember how deeply held the British love of nature and the desire for a healthy environment is, including on climate action. And we stress that the story of transition has to feel positive, inclusive and empathetic, as well as affordable at a time of rising costs. More than anything we ask them to remember that people don’t want climate change to become a political football, and that there is no mileage in slowing down or polarising on action. 

Getting the political climate story right nationally and locally has never been more important. Get in touch if we can help.

Q: Is the term ‘net zero’ a problem? Are there better terms to use?

It’s not great. The benefit of ‘net zero’ is it’s established, and a useful short-hand for the breadth of climate action needed over the coming years. But let’s face it, it’s technical and boring – two things that are the opposite of the climate story we all really need to tell right now. Its technical-ness allows it to be easily weaponised by people who want to make climate action out to be uncaring or distant from people’s real concerns. 

The idea of net zero isn’t the problem. We tested three different similar terms to see which people prefer: 

  • Britain ends its contribution to climate change 
  • Britain balances the amount of carbon dioxide we release with the amount we remove from it 
  • Britain reaches net zero

The most popular was ‘balancing’. This fits with our established findings that the idea of restoring ‘balance’ in humans’ impact on the planet is appealing to people across segments, in particular those more right-leaning.

The take-away is that at the very heart of being a great climate communicator is to talk like a human. Wherever you can, don’t say ‘net zero’ if you mean warmer homes, or cleaner air, or brilliant public transport. If you want to excite people about what the transition could mean for their lives, get specific and personal.

Q: You have two ‘disengaged’ segments, who seem like the least sure about climate action. How do I get them to care and act?

The first thing is to always remember that everyone cares about climate change. 46% of Disengaged Traditionalists and 49% of Disengaged Battlers say that they are very or somewhat worried about it. But it’s true that some segments, particularly Disengaged Traditionalists and Disengaged Battlers, have the most concerns about whether the transition to a low-carbon society will be good news for them. And they are the least likely to think that there’s much point asking politicians or other ‘elites’ to change what they see as a broken system. 

Show, don’t tell. Disengaged groups are tired of big promises that things will be better. They want to see and feel that change is already happening and it’s good, and people like them trust it.  Don’t talk about things like ‘green jobs’ in the abstract: instead show how people are already thriving in low-carbon jobs in the towns and communities where your audience live. 

Get your ‘ask’ right. Disengaged groups probably won’t take political actions. But they might be interested to hear how they can do their bit as part of a wider change they can see is already happening.  

Listen. If people are worried about changes to transport or their homes, find out why. People across society want to feel that their concerns have been listened to. This is particularly important where people may have a wider sense that economic change hasn’t been good news for them or their communities. Getting the climate story right starts with understanding how your audience thinks and feels about the world and their place in it. Our toolkit contains deep dives into all seven segments.

Q: So do we need to learn seven distinct climate stories? That seems like a lot.

Everyone’s climate story is different. It’s always best to listen and learn what makes people tick, and have an authentic conversation that flows from what you and they care about. But if that’s not possible, then the seven different climate stories we explore in our toolkit can be useful for getting conversations off to a good start. 

Here are four things that help to determine the kind of climate story any of us will be receptive to: 

  • Their strength of feeling about climate change 
  • Whether they care more about local or global issues 
  • Their trust in institutions and ‘the system’ 
  • Their income and personal circumstances 

We explore these further here. 

Q. Why have the segments changed sizes?

Since 2020, we have seen a change in the proportions of the seven British segments. The percentage of Progressive Activists has fallen from 13% in 2020 to 8% across a 12 month average from 2023 to 2024. The percentages of the two Disengaged segments have both fallen slightly; in 2020 we saw 12% of Disengaged Battlers and 17% of Disengaged Traditionalists and we now see 8% and 13% respectively over a 12 month average. The proportions of Loyal Nationals and Backbone Conservatives have increased; in 2020 we saw 17% of Loyal Nationals and 15% of Backbone Conservatives, up to 23% and 22% respectively over a 12 month average. The proportions of Civic Pragmatists and Established Liberals have remained fairly consistent since 2020.

People’s deeper, core values aren’t necessarily changing much, but global circumstances are. People have less money, and are more worried about the future. The answers some people give to the Golden Questions may reflect this enough to nudge some people from one segment into another. 

The recruitment method for research with the seven British segments has been tweaked since 2020. We have improved on our sampling methodology to ensure that we are more accurately representing Britain’s oldest age groups, who are more likely to be socially conservative.

All our advice from 2020 on how to talk with different segments remains accurate. 

Q. Do you have info about Scotland, Wales and London?

Yes! As part of our 2024 update of the Britain Talks Climate toolkit, we added pages on Scotland and Wales. These pages include our insights on climate engagement and concern, climate leadership, and climate policy in Scotland and Wales. We hosted a Scotland specific webinar on 7th May, so look out for the recording. 

During London Climate Action Week towards the end of June 2024, we will host a London focused webinar where we will share London-specific insights.

Q. Do you have info about Northern Ireland?

We did not include Northern Ireland in the sample for this 2024 research, as Northern Ireland was not included in the original Britain Talks Climate study. We are keen to collaborate with Northern Ireland based organisations to discuss how our insights might be useful there.

Q. What else can you tell us about trusted messengers?

Check out our new research to explore what trust and influence means to the seven British segments. This builds on our previous Britain Talks Climate research into trusted messengers. You can also watch the recording of the launch webinar for further insight.

Q. Do we have info about minorities, age and socio-economic demographics?

Yes! We did collect 2024 data for various demographics including; gender, age, region, rural vs. urban, living situation, car ownership, home heating method, ethnicity, education level, employment status, and financial situation. Throughout the toolkit we have included insights for some demographic data.


This blog was contributed to by David Powell, Emma James and More in Common.

By David Powell

David leads our advocacy work, championing public engagement and effective climate communications with policy makers, politicians and those who influence them.

David has nearly two decades of experience as a campaigner, communicator, researcher and strategist on environment and climate change. He’s worked as Head of Environment and Green Transition at the New Economics Foundation and senior campaigner on economics and resources at Friends of the Earth. He has a MA in English Literature, an MSc in Environmental Strategy, and a Graduate Diploma in Economics. He’s particularly interested in the intersection between systems change and individual psychology, and how to build campaigns that harness the deeply held concerns we all have about the climate crisis.

Outside of work he hosts the climate psychology podcast, Your Brain on Climate, and until 2022 was co-host of Sustainababble. He is also the chair of Somerset Wildlands, and spends whatever time there is left running and playing the sax.

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