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Nine in 10 UK adults blame human activity for climate change

However, UK adults only place 16% of the responsibility to make changes to prevent it from getting worse on individuals and place around a quarter of total responsibility to fight climate change (23%) with their national Government.

The research, which forms part of the IET’s Green Preferences Survey, also reveals that just over half of the population (57%) thinks we can avoid the worst effects of climate change, but only by making radical changes to the way we live our lives. Only 18% feel it will be their generation that will be the first to experience real noticeable change to their day-to-day life as a result of climate change and worryingly one in 10 (9%) of all respondents aged 18-34 believe it’s too late to avoid the worst effects of climate change and we should not try to prevent them.

In terms of current active environmental behaviour, including eco-friendly trade-offs, the survey found in the UK:

Recycling and green behaviour

  • On average 8 in 10 adults recycle plastic, tins and paper materials.
  • Only half of adults recycle food waste (51%) or batteries (54%).
  • Young people are more active in investing in recyclable behaviours overall including carrying reusable water bottles with them most of the time (61% of 18-34-year-olds compared to 40% aged 55+)[1]
  • Almost all those aged 55+ take their own bags shopping (97%) compared to 72% aged 18-34[2], while 8 in 10 (of those aged 55+) choose to hold on to their recyclable waste until they can find an appropriate bin (80% compared to 67% aged 18-34)[3].
  • The largest differentials between the younger and older age ranges are observed in eating less meat/choosing not to eat meat for environmental reasons (40% of 18-34-year-olds compared to 22% of 55+) and choosing to avoid buying fruit or vegetables that are shipped from other countries for environmental reasons (41% of 18-34-year-olds compared to 27% of 55+).


  • 34% of households say they are on a green energy tariff.
  • Home insulation (e.g. loft insulation, cavity insulation) is identified as being most likely to minimise an individual’s carbon emissions (44%) followed by installing solar panels 35%.
  • 77% of adults have double glazing, 64% have loft and wall installation, 26% have smart technology/digital assistants but only 17% have solar panels installed in their home.
  • Among homeowners who wouldn’t consider installing green technology in their homes in the future, cost is typically the biggest barrier, with this being particularly prevalent with solar panels (46%).
  • Seven in 10 (69%) would rather put on a jumper than turn the heating on when the weather starts to get cold.
  • When it comes to washing clothes, the UK is split between those who would use a longer eco-wash (49%) and a shorter normal wash (51%).


  • Only 9% of those surveyed own an EV/hybrid electric vehicle with pure electric vehicle owners representing less than 3% of the population.
  • 50% of respondents said they would have a holiday in the UK in the next three years, but only 18% of them cited reducing their carbon footprint as the reason.
  • Only a quarter of respondents would consider taking the train to Europe for a holiday for £500 rather than flying for £200.
  • Cost, speed and convenience of the method of journey are more important than reducing carbon footprint.
  • 73% of people would choose to drive 15 minutes to go to the shops over taking public transport for 45 minutes.

James Robottom, Sustainability and Climate Change Lead at the IET said: “Climate change is the biggest engineering challenge of our lifetime and the one that we must be the most successful at tackling. That only comes from everyone playing their role and working together to achieve our net-zero target.

“It’s encouraging to see that just over half of the population knows that radical action is needed and people are willing to adapt their lives to take positive steps to address climate change. However more needs to be done; cost and awareness are two of the biggest barriers affecting the active adoption of green technology and solutions – short-term financial gains are always attractive, but long-term investment must be the goal.

“Two of the biggest challenges we face – decarbonising heat and transport – will require changes to be made to our everyday lives. It is essential that people are engaged in the process and can see the benefits of green solutions so that we don’t leave anyone behind."

Based on the results of the survey, the report outlines seven key recommendations:

  • Practical guidance regarding the UK’s climate change ambitions as well as putting them into context with the urgency and scientific reality of climate change.
  • Improve installation support and advice for the uptake of green solutions.
  • Ensure excellent standards of professionalism to build and maintain public trust. Green technology must be reliable, timely and prove its value in both the short and long term.
  • Support technology innovation in order to provide improvements in efficiency and drive down costs.
  • Think in the long term – it is essential that the longer-term impact of any new technologies and innovations are considered.
  • Actively identify opportunities for incentivised behaviour change.
  • Promote a green post-Covid-19 recovery.

The IET’s Green Preferences Survey surveyed adults across the UK, Australia, China, Germany, India, the Middle East, and the USA. It reveals public perceptions around making changes and trade-offs to reduce emissions, as well as understanding where the public believes responsibilities lie and what our greatest barriers are to achieving net-zero and being more sustainable.

To read the report in full, please visit:




Notes to Editor

The research was conducted by independent market research agency Opinium on behalf of the IET. Fieldwork was conducted between the 15th July 2020 and 7th August 2020. The survey achieved 3,337 responses in the UK (those aged 18+). Additional surveying was undertaken in Australia (1,000 responses), China (1,000 responses), Germany (1,000 responses), India (1,000 responses), the UAE (400 responses) and the USA (1,000 responses).

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[1] Net of those that agree with the statement ‘I carry a reusable water bottle with me most of the time’

[2] Net of those that agree with the statement ‘I take my own bags to shops so I don’t have to use new ones’

[3] Net of those that agree with the statement ‘If I have some recyclable waste with me, I will carry it until I find a recycling bin, or take it home to recycle it if I must’