Public anxiety grows over environment as COP 26 UN Conference looms large

Published by: Derek Bell

2021.10.14

Despite strong belief that personal actions make a difference and that there is still time left to combat climate change, hope has faded recently 

As we emerge from the dark storm clouds of the COVID-19 pandemic, what most of us understandably want is to put it all behind us and to get back to some semblance of normality.  However, with the climate crisis looming and emissions targets to meet, there are some who find this ‘return to normal’ approach to be a cause for concern, especially younger people.

Younger people are feeling anxious about the environment

The latest September results from the RED C Consumer Sustainability Monitor suggest a growing sense of unease amongst 18+ Irish adults. We see a gradual erosion of the belief that there is still time left to reverse the effects of climate change, and also an erosion in the belief that one’s personal actions can make a difference.  What group has declined the most? You guessed it – younger people.

This concern is understandable when you think about, especially from an Irish perspective.  In Ireland, CO2 emissions have been mainly in decline since 2006, yet worldwide they have grown steadily during this time, driven by nations a world away from Ireland.  Add to this the fact that the ‘pandemic lockdown’ CO2 decline was the largest ever recorded, yet is somehow expected to be just a small blip, with CO2 still reaching its highest ever average annual concentration in 2020.

The Irish could be forgiven for feeling a bit jaded on the back of news such as this. “I couldn’t travel anywhere, studied or worked from home, didn’t go out, hardly saw any friends – but yet emissions worldwide are still growing??” Something seems amiss.

Eco-anxiety seems to affect views on COP 26 UN Climate Conference

It is then perhaps no surprise that Irish views on the upcoming COP 26 UN Climate Conference are very mixed and to a certain degree apathetic. The conference, which runs in Glasgow from 31st October to 12th November, is intended to bring together parties to accelerate actions towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.  However, when asked if this is the best last chance to get runaway climate change under control, less than half in Ireland (44%) are in agreement, with less than 1 in 5 (16%) agreeing strongly, and nearly half (45%) not knowing or on the fence.  This seems to paint a picture of uncertainty and lack of confidence that meaningful change will come from it.

Firm belief that immediate action is needed, with resistance to lifestyle change easing amidst extreme weather reporting

This is not to say that people don’t care. We see that there is still a very high level of agreement (85%) that immediate action is needed on the environment to protect our children.  We also see an easing of resistance to lifestyle changes since March of this year, most likely due to the easing of COVID restrictions and also continued reporting of extreme global weather both likely contributing factors.  There is also strong support (especially amongst 18-34-year-olds) to help reduce emissions by working remotely as much as possible.  So there is appetite for change, but people seem to be looking for leadership and action from the top – both with government and businesses.

Personal actions make a difference  

How to drive change though? Obviously, there are lots of ways, but one key one is to help remind people (as was done during the pandemic) that personal actions do make a difference.  The latest RED C Sustainability Monitor results show clearly that those who carry this belief are significantly more likely (than those who do not hold this belief) to try and act in ways that reduce their environmental impact, so it’s just about finding ways to drive that belief.

Heed younger people

Eventually, many aspects of our lives will go back to the way they were pre-COVID, and in many ways they already have. More and more are going back into the office and socializing, and infection rates, we are told, should continue to slowly decline.  However, if things start going ‘too much’ back to normal and the climate and environment are not prioritised by political and business leaders, then frustrated and helpless feeling younger people may ultimately make their voices heard through their bank cards and voting ballots.

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RED C Sustainability Monitor – September 2021

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