The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has published the results of the 29th edition of its Public Attitudes Tracker (PAT). The PAT is a quarterly survey of the British public run since 2012. Its purpose is to gauge public opinion of BEIS’s priorities. The latest edition of the survey reveals that the proportion of the public concerned about climate change is at an all-time high, at 80%. A total of 45% of the public are fairly concerned, and 35% are very concerned. The increase in concern has been driven by the proportion of people who are very concerned. Additionally, more of the public than ever before believe that climate change is anthropogenic (human-caused). It is important to note that the survey was conducted in March 2019. Its results may be influenced by recent international school strikes against government inaction on climate change. However, major climate protests and the declaration of a climate emergency by the UK Parliament came after the survey took place. The next quarter’s edition of the survey may reflect even greater concern for sustainability driven by more recent events.
As public concern for climate change has risen, so has concern that the UK is not investing enough in renewable energy. Renewable energy technologies with high public support are solar, off-shore wind, wave and tidal, and on-shore wind. However, solar energy and on-shore wind energy are effectively excluded from subsidies under the Contracts for Difference (CfD) mechanism, the main government scheme for supporting renewable energy. This is because they are considered established technologies. The UK electricity system is tending towards renewables, which now account for a third of generation capacity. It recently had its first week without coal generation since the Industrial Revolution. While these facts suggest that renewables do not need subsidies, fossil fuels still generate 60% of electricity in the UK. Furthermore, they receive almost 50% more subsidies than all renewable technologies combined, according to a January 2019 report from the European Commission. Until subsidies for fossil fuels are phased-out (which G7 countries promise will happen by 2025), calls for solar energy and on-shore wind to re-join the CfD may grow louder so that energy technologies can compete on a level playing field.
Nick Fedson MEng MSc
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