Poll shows high degree of public resistance to many potential climate action measures

Concern over climate change does not seem to translate into enthusiasm to combat it

The strongest opposition recorded by the poll is over higher taxes on fuel and energy (82%  opposed) and more expensive petrol/diesel cars (72%)

The strongest opposition recorded by the poll is over higher taxes on fuel and energy (82% opposed) and more expensive petrol/diesel cars (72%)

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The scale of the political task facing the Government as it embarks upon a programme of climate action is laid bare by the findings of today’s Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll.

The findings show that the Government has a mammoth task ahead of it to secure public backing for a variety of measures which may form part of its plans to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases over the coming years.

The Dáil has passed legislation requiring the Government to reduce carbon emissions by 7 per cent a year, leading to a reduction of 51 per cent by 2030. However, it is still working on the details of how this will be achieved, with a climate action plan and a carbon budget due to be announced at the end of this month. Government Ministers say that the changes to be introduced in the coming years will amount to huge changes in daily and economic life.

The poll shows a high degree of public resistance to many potential climate action measures. Some of the measures have already been signalled by the Government, while others have been suggested or are employed elsewhere.

The task for the Government will be to win over the public’s scepticism and convince voters that the changes are worthwhile to reduce emissions and avoid the worst predictions of global warming. If it fails to do that it will find itself imposing unwelcome charges on a restive electorate – and that would be a recipe for political disaster.

While other polls – including a Eurobarometer survey this summer which found that Irish people believe climate change is now the most serious threat facing the world – tend to show a high degree of public concern on the issue, today’s poll suggests that this does not translate into enthusiasm for individual actions.

This is especially the case with measures which would entail increased costs for individuals. Asked if they would personally support various measures, resistance was highest on those measures which would directly affect people.

Taxes on fuel

The strongest opposition recorded by the poll is expressed by respondents over higher taxes on fuel and energy (82 per cent opposed) and more expensive petrol/diesel cars (72 per cent).

Voters were also not prepared to run the risk of electricity blackouts – 81 per cent of respondents expressed opposition.

A majority – albeit a much narrower one at 53 per cent – is opposed to higher taxes on air travel.

The question of a ban on building new data centres (38 per cent in favour, 46 cent against) and a nationwide ban on smoky fuels (45 per cent in favour, 49 per cent against) split the electorate more closely.

Farming organisations, who are gearing up for a campaign of opposition to the agriculture-focussed climate actions, will be pleased to see that 60 per cent of people are opposed to reducing the size of the national herd.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil TDs who represent rural constituencies, and who are likely to be targeted by the farmers’ campaigns, will find it hard to sign to measures which would involve a reduction in the herd.

Surveying all the data it is hard to escape the conclusion that very many people have a generalised concern about global warming, but do not – yet, anyway – accept that they personally should pay a price for tackling greenhouse gas emissions, either financially or otherwise.

This is an enormous challenge for the Green Party, which is the engine behind the Government’s climate change agenda.

But it is also an urgent matter for the Government as a whole because Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have signed up to the climate action agenda. They have put it into legislation. They are now bound not just by political commitments they have made but by legally-binding imperatives based in the climate Act passed earlier this year and signed into law during the summer by President Michael D Higgins.

As the pandemic recedes, achieving the climate targets will now become one of the central parts of this Government’s narrative. To put it mildly, Ministers have their work cut out.

Three options

Voters also have mixed feelings about next week’s budget. Given three options – to reduce spending, to maintain it at current levels or to cut spending – the largest group of respondents (44 per cent) favour maintaining current levels, with 27 per cent in favour of higher spending, and 20 per cent preferring a cut in spending.

Asked to choose between reducing taxes and increasing spending, a majority of voters (52 per cent) said they preferred tax cuts. A third of voters preferred spending increases.

The results of the poll so far show that the Government’s positions, actions and planned actions run directly up against the majority view of the public in several respects.

On Thursday The Irish Times reported that a majority favours retention of the 12.5 per cent rate of corporation tax; the Government has agreed to increase it.

Green measures such as higher carbon costs are on the way; the poll today shows the public doesn’t like it.

The public agrees with Michael D Higgins about not going to the Armagh event, but the Government is sending a representative.

Today’s poll suggests that the public favours tax cuts over public spending increases, but next week’s budget will be dominated by spending increases.

If Irish politicians are often accused of pandering to voters it seems that is an unfair charge to lay at the door of the current Coalition. An alternative analysis, of course, is just that they are not very good at it.

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