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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 July, 2004, 05:00 GMT 06:00 UK
Britons unsure of climate costs
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

A majority of Britons accept human activity is responsible for changing the climate of the planet, a new BBC poll suggests.

Emissions from a UK power station, PA
Britons are unsure of the costs of climate change
But barely half of more than 1,000 people polled thought they themselves would feel any significant impact.

And almost half of those interviewed thought changing their behaviour would make no difference to climate change.

Most were willing to take some action, though nearly two out of three rejected paying more for petrol.

A total of 1,007 British adults were questioned between 16 and 18 July by ICM for the Climate Change Special being broadcast on BBC News 24 and BBC One.

Climate change came last of the list of important issues facing the UK, chosen by 53%, though 64% said it was one of the most important problems facing the world.

Personal behaviour

More than half (60%) said global warming would best be tackled at a global level, with 5% wanting Europe to set the pace, and 9% thinking individual households were best placed to act.

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Asked whether changes in personal behaviour would make a difference, 54% said yes and 44% no.

Despite that, 85% said they would be prepared to make changes, with only 13% dissenting.

The changes people were prepared to make included recycling more household waste (96%), using less energy at home (92%), using cars less (68%), and taking fewer flights (62%).

But only 51% said they would be prepared to pay more to fly, and just 37% would agree to pay more for petrol.

Most respondents claimed some familiarity with the subject: 23% said they knew a lot about climate change and 58% a little. A total of 90% thought the UK would feel some impact, with 47% expecting "a lot" of effects, and 43% "a little".

Extreme weather was seen as the likeliest impact (80%), with 68% saying the country would become wetter, 62% hotter - and 36% colder.

Only 18% of respondents said it was too early to say whether human or natural causes were more to blame for climate change - 64% said human activities were more culpable.

Of those, 67% blamed road and air transport, 66% the felling of trees, and 57% power generation from coal and oil.

Yet despite the levels of knowledge and concern that the questioning revealed, 43% of respondents said they expected climate change to have not very much effect on them personally, with 9% saying it would have no effect at all.

Perhaps this goes some way to explain the frustration of those convinced that climate change is a huge threat.

Until we believe it will make a difference to us and to our children, we are unlikely to take it seriously enough to do anything very much about it.

On this showing, more than half of us still expect it will leave us largely unscathed. So it remains a problem for someone else to worry about.

The Climate Change Special is broadcast on BBC News 24 and BBC 1 on 29 and 30 July.


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