The Irish Times view: Poll shows difficulties in forming climate strategy

Opinion poll indicates public’s scepticism towards some environment-focused measured

A majority of Irish people believe warnings from scientific experts and accept that climate change is the biggest issue facing the world, according to the findings of the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll. However, a significant minority does not accept that view and, even more importantly, there are divided opinions about whether people are prepared to accept higher prices for petrol, oil and gas as part of the solution.

There is a noticeable class divide on how the issue should be faced, with the better-off willing to accept higher fuel prices but serious opposition to that among less well-off voters as well as farmers. For instance, when voters were asked if they were okay with reducing their standard of living to tackle climate change, a majority of 54 per cent said yes while 36 per cent disagreed.

When asked in the next question whether they were okay with an increase in the price of oil, gas, petrol and diesel to help deal with the issue, 48 per cent said no and 44 per cent said yes. This was particularly the case among less well-off voters, with a majority of two to one against increased carbon taxes. That contrasted with a solid majority in favour among the better-off. There was also a big age divide, with 18- to 24-year-olds strongly in favour and all of the older age groups opposed to a greater or lesser degree.

Unsurprisingly, these views spilled over into party politics, with Fine Gael and Independent voters, who include the Greens, in favour of higher carbon taxes while Fianna Fáil, Labour and particularly Sinn Féin supporters were against. This trend was even more pronounced when voters were asked if the Government should spend more money on tackling climate change and less on public service, with a big majority saying no.

The findings illustrate the difficulty the Government faces in coming up with a coherent strategy on climate change while building public support for measures such as carbon taxes which hit people in their pockets. It is a warning that the State’s climate change strategy could be derailed unless it is explained carefully and implemented sensitively.