Australians are "overwhelmingly concerned" about the threat of climate change following last summer's horror bushfire season and current plans to tackle the problem are "not popular" with voters, as the UK Prime Minister calls on our own PM to craft "ambitious targets" to lower emissions.

A new report from the Australia Institute think tank surveyed a sample of 1998 Aussies and found that 82 per cent were concerned climate change would result in more bushfires, and a similar amount want coal power stations closed down.

More than two-thirds of respondents said Australia should have a national target for zero emissions by 2050 (which the states and territories all have already), and more than 70 per cent want us to lead the world in finding solutions.

There’s a big gap between the number of Australians concerned about climate change and the ones who think it’s a hoax.
There’s a big gap between the number of Australians concerned about climate change and the ones who think it’s a hoax.


People who were directly impacted by last summer's bushfires were vastly more concerned, but they agreed with the non-affected group that the Coalition government, in power since 2013, has not "done a good job managing the climate crisis", with only around a third of respondents in both groups saying the Government had.

Asked about the connection between climate change and bushfires, only around a third from both groups said there was no link.

The survey found those who had been directly impacted were more likely to be concerned about climate change.

Danny Wearne surveys the bushfire damage to his property on November 13, 2019 in Rainbow Flat, NSW. Picture: Sam Mooy/Getty Images
Danny Wearne surveys the bushfire damage to his property on November 13, 2019 in Rainbow Flat, NSW. Picture: Sam Mooy/Getty Images


"People who said they were directly impacted by the fires were much more likely to agree with statements expressing concern about climate change impacts or the need for climate change leadership," the report detailed.

Climate change has been the topic of much research over the decades, occasionally and loudly dismissed by some who think "academic elites" have made the whole thing up.

But it seems most people can already feel the effects.

"It seems to be getting hotter and hotter, we're getting less and less rain. The ground is just extremely dry … the men and women who were trying to take on these fires, the severity, and the strength of them - things that they had never seen before. I think that definitely is due to climate change," a female undecided voter said in a focus group conducted for the survey.

Firefighters faced conditions they ‘had never seen before’ last summer. Picture: Sam Mooy/Getty Images
Firefighters faced conditions they ‘had never seen before’ last summer. Picture: Sam Mooy/Getty Images


"The winters are definitely warmer and they're shorter … clothes that I used to wear - thick coats, scarfs - I think I've worn a scarf once this winter. And I live in the Blue Mountains … you just don't need that type of clothing anymore," another woman said.

"It gets hotter every summer. So every summer that comes around, it goes from 40 to 42 to 44, 47. I think we might even get closer to 50 this year because it just seems like it's going up and up. And that's just because of climate change," another undecided female voter from Western Sydney said.

Last summer’s bushfires have increased concern about climate change. Picture: Chris Kidd
Last summer’s bushfires have increased concern about climate change. Picture: Chris Kidd

The Government's current "gas-fired recovery" plan relies heavily on natural gas to supplant coal, which would involve giving the fossil fuel industry subsidies that 52 per cent of Australians oppose.

The Australia Institute's report also found that Australians were not well informed about gas and the gas industry.

Calling it "natural gas" made participants think more highly of it than when you use terms like "fracking" and "coal seam gas".

A liquid natural gas processing plant at Bladin Point in the Northern Territory. Picture Katrina Bridgeford
A liquid natural gas processing plant at Bladin Point in the Northern Territory. Picture Katrina Bridgeford

Defence of the fossil fuel focus often relies on the perception that it will be good for jobs, but the study showed respondents incorrectly thought the gas industry employed around 40 times more people than it really does.

Respondents thought gas mining and exploration employed an average of 8.2 per cent of all Australian workers. The real number is 0.2 per cent, or 28,600 people according to the Australia Institute.

And it might actually be less: Australian Bureau of Statistics data from August showed only 18,000 people were employed in oil and gas extraction.

The report found the gas-fired recovery plan "is not popular".

Only around one in eight Australians think fossil fuel gas is the ticket, with close to 60 per cent wanting the Government to invest in zero emissions renewable energy to create jobs and lower emissions.
Only around one in eight Australians think fossil fuel gas is the ticket, with close to 60 per cent wanting the Government to invest in zero emissions renewable energy to create jobs and lower emissions.

Only 12 per cent of respondents preferred gas, while 59 per cent wanted our economic recovery to focus on investment in renewables instead (11 per cent didn't have an opinion and 18 per cent said they didn't know).

On Tuesday night, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had a phone call with our own PM Scott Morrison, where the UK PM "stressed that we need bold action to address climate change, noting that the UK's experience demonstrates that driving economic growth and reducing emissions can go hand-in-hand".

Mr Johnson "emphasised the importance of setting ambitious targets to cut emissions and reach net zero (emissions)" and the pair have "agreed to intensify the partnership between the UK and Australia on developing and scaling up green technologies" according to the UK PM's office.

 

A 33.7MWp (megawatt peak) solar farm in Katherine, NT.
A 33.7MWp (megawatt peak) solar farm in Katherine, NT.


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