(John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are
his own. Refiles to correct UKERC name in paragraph 1)
By John Kemp
LONDON, July 18 Most people in Britain want to
reduce reliance on fossil fuels, but due more to fears of
shortages and rising prices than to fears about climate change,
according to a poll developed by researchers at Cardiff
University and funded by the UK Energy Research Centre.
Nearly 2,500 people were surveyed across England, Scotland
and Wales in August 2012. The results, published on Tuesday in a
report on "Transforming the UK energy system: public values,
attitudes and acceptability," provide a trove of information
about public opinion on climate and energy policy.
By a large majority, respondents were either very concerned
(24 percent) or fairly concerned (50 percent) about climate
change and thought it was partly (48 percent) or mainly (28
percent) caused by human activity.
Only a minority thought fears about climate change have been
exaggerated (30 percent), though more expressed uncertainty
about what the effects will really be (59 percent).
Nearly everyone agreed with the statement that Britain needs
"to radically change how we produce and use energy by 2050".
Yet when asked about their concerns, affordability and
energy security consistently came to the fore as the most
FEARS ABOUT PEAK OIL LIVE ON
Keeping bills affordable was the most important single
priority for respondents (40 percent) followed by making sure
the United Kingdom has enough energy to prevent blackouts and
fuel shortages (32 percent). Tackling climate change came a
distant third (27 percent).
Turning the question on its head, climate change was the
least important priority for almost half of the respondents (48
By overwhelming majorities, those polled were fairly or very
concerned gas and electricity would become unaffordable (83
percent); Britain will become too dependent on energy from other
countries (83 percent); the country will have no alternatives if
fossil fuels are no longer available (83 percent); and petrol
will become unaffordable (78 percent).
Nearly four out of five respondents agreed the country
should reduce its reliance on fossil fuels (79 percent).
When asked for their reasons, respondents cited concerns
about fossil fuels running out, being unsustainable or
non-renewable (48 percent), costly (7 percent) and implied
dependence on other countries (5 percent), compared with worries
they are harmful to the environment and polluting (19 percent)
or contribute to climate change (17 percent).
While energy analysts are no longer concerned that oil and
gas supplies will peak and start to run out, owing to the shale
revolution, these fears continue to resonate strongly with
ordinary members of the public.
The same focus on affordability, reliability and convenience
comes through in some of the survey's more detailed questions.
Most people are prepared to reduce their own energy use (81
percent) in many cases greatly (58 percent).
Britain's government and climate campaigners are pushing for
wider use of electricity, as renewable power generation grows,
for home heating, cooking and vehicles to help reduce carbon
But the poll found fairly modest levels of support for that
shift. If electric heating, cooking and vehicles were to become
as convenient to use as conventional counterparts, willingness
to use them would then climb significantly, especially if they
SAVING THE CLIMATE, CHEAPLY
Cost is clearly central in discussions about energy and
climate change, though the study's authors tend to downplay its
To the extent fossil fuels are seen as expensive and
unreliable, consumers are keen to reduce their use of them in
favour of cleaner, cheaper and more secure sources of energy,
which has important environmental benefits, even if this is not
the main objective of the shift.
To the extent that clean energy is seen as more expensive,
consumers are more hesitant about its benefits and focused on
worries about affordability and rising bills.
Neither the survey nor the accompanying focus-group work
asked people how much extra they would be prepared to pay or to
reduce their energy consumption to avert climate change, owing
to the lack of agreement about future commodity, carbon and
clean energy prices, among other issues.
But the survey's other findings suggest the answer may be:
Consumers are already very worried about the impact of
rising gas and power bills as well as the escalating cost of
travelling by road and rail.
In principle they may be willing to pay a bit more to avert
climate change, but that "bit more" may turn out to be fairly
limited in practice.
The survey contains important implications for fossil-fuel
producers as well as environmental campaigners and clean energy
For fossil-fuel suppliers, there is no future unless further
price rises can be avoided.
Fossil fuels have already been tarred with a reputation for
being dirty and polluting. If they are also seen as expensive
and unreliable, the public will want to replace them with wind,
solar and hydropower, which are less vulnerable to political
disruption and to violent price swings, and make everyone feel
good at the same time.
For environmental campaigners and supporters of clean tech,
the survey points to unease about rising costs and concerns that
energy must be affordable and convenient as well as clean.
There is limited appetite for sacrificing personal comfort
and convenience to save the planet.
"Transforming the UK Energy System: Public Values, Attitudes
and Acceptability" is available at: here
(editing by Jane Baird)