75% of Aussies ‘concerned’ about climate change, 80% want climate considered before fossil fuel project approval

Image: The number of people “very concerned” about climate change continues to increase, according to the report.(Supplied: Australia Institute)

Report shows growing number of Australians believe climate change effects already being felt

By regional climate reporter Jess Davis

Over the past 15 years, Australians have weathered myriad climate-related disasters including catastrophic bushfires, devastating droughts, and now destructive floods.

It is perhaps unsurprising that new research shows people’s attitudes towards climate change have shifted as they have been exposed firsthand to the impacts of a warming planet.

Those attitudes have been mapped out in the annual Climate of the Nation report, which began in 2007 and is now conducted by internet-based market research firm YouGov for think tank The Australia Institute.

According to the latest Climate of the Nation report, Australians have become more worried about the effects of climate change with 75 per cent of respondents concerned and that number rising to 84 per cent among 25 to 34-year-olds.

Climate impacts already being felt

One of the most dramatic shifts to have occurred over the past few years has been people’s belief that climate was already having impacts, with more than half believing we are experiencing the impacts “a lot”, up from 33 per cent in 2016.

Only 6 per cent of Australians believe we are not experiencing climate change impacts at all.

In 2018, only 39 per cent of people believed that heatwaves and extremely hot days were being driven by climate change. That number has risen to 52 per cent.

There were similar results for questions about climate change’s impacts on droughts, floods, and bushfires.

The majority of Australians were also concerned that climate change would result in more droughts, floods, bushfires, and other extreme weather events.

A man with dark hair and a short beard wearing glasses and a blue suit jacket over a collared business shirt
The Australia Institute director of climate and energy Richie Merzian says concern over climate impacts is at a record high.(ABC News: Tahlia Roy)

“As flood waters continue to rise at record levels, so too does the number of Australians worried about climate change impacts with concern over floods at record highs,” The Australia Institute’s director of climate and energy, Richie Merzian, said.

“As the climate minister prepares to front the world at COP27 in Egypt, he can feel confident that most Australians want the nation to be a world leader on climate action and two-thirds want to host a United Nations Climate Conference on home soil.”

Conflicting opinions muddy waters

High school students gather with protest signs about climate change
Protesters gather during a School Strike 4 Climate protest outside then-treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s office in Melbourne on May 13, 2022.(AAP: James Ross)

The report found “conflicting opinions and perceived exaggerated claims about the impact of climate change continue to muddy the waters when it comes to some Australians’ attitudes to climate change”.

And despite concern about the impact of climate change, 30 per cent of respondents believed the seriousness was exaggerated, although it said that perspective tended to line up with party political affiliations.

Sixty-six per cent of One Nation voters believed the seriousness of climate change was exaggerated, compared with 12 per cent of Greens voters, 21 per cent of Labor voters, 47 per cent of Coalition voters, and 33 per cent of other voters.

The Australian Greens have been calling for climate impacts to be part of any fossil fuel project approval by the federal environment minister, known as a “climate trigger”.  An overwhelming 80 per cent of respondents said they would be in favour of such a policy.

A tractor drives through floodwaters, with a pile of sandbags in the foreground.
Only 6 per cent of Australians don’t believe they are experiencing climate change impacts at all.(ABC News: Gavin Coote)

Respondents were also asked whether they supported a windfall profits tax on the oil and gas industry, with 61 per cent behind the idea and only one-fifth opposing it.

“The Climate of the Nation report shows Australians are fed up with the mismanagement of the country’s natural resource wealth and want a windfall profits tax on the gas industry and a levy on our fossil fuel exports to help pay for climate related disasters,” Mr Merzian said.

“Australians are dealing with the high-cost consequences of relying on gas and coal power and three quarters want the government to step in and plan the shift to renewables and storage.”

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