Annual surveys of Australian attitudes to climate change

We conducted annual climate attitude surveys from 2010 to 2014. Most Australians think the climate is changing, and are doing many different things to respond to it, for a variety of reasons.

The Challenge

The human element of adapting to climate change

Effective action on adapting to climate change needs to be based on current and reliable information about what Australians think about climate change.

We undertook a systematic research project to better address public perceptions and understandings of climate change.

This research complemented and informed the climate and adaptation research undertaken across many science and social science disciplines within CSIRO.

Our Response

Gauging Australian attitudes to climate change

Five online surveys were undertaken at approximately yearly intervals from 2010 until 2014. They all use the same method and a core component of questions to benchmark attitudes and track changes.

Some additional or alternative questions are also included every year to reflect the changing public conversation.

The Results

A snapshot of Australian attitudes over time

The first survey in 2010 was just prior to the Federal election. It shows that most Australians consider climate change is happening and the majority consider that human activities play a role. An interesting result from this survey is the relationship between attitudes to climate change and political voting intentions. In Australia, like many other countries, attitudes to climate change and political voting intentions are strongly linked.

The second survey in 2011 was just prior to legislation being put to parliament to introduce a price on carbon. It showed that acceptance of climate change changed little over the year.

The third survey in 2012, similar to the two previous surveys, found that most people agree that climate change is happening, but they remain divided about the role played by human activity. There was strong evidence that people overestimate the prevalence of their own views on the nature of climate change.

The fourth survey in 2013 investigated the community’s own projections of how their local climate might change in the future, and how they planned to respond. Previous experience with extreme climate and weather events was positively linked to anticipated coping. It was also revealed that most people tend to overestimate the amount of actions they’re taking to respond to climate change relative to other Australians. Opinions about the causes of climate change remained relatively unchanged from 2010.

The fifth survey in 2014 allowed the research team to assess the findings across the whole longitudinal survey period of 2010 to 2014. The survey showed that attitudes about climate change remained relatively unchanged over the survey period. A strong majority of Australians think climate change is happening, and support a wide variety of initiatives to both mitigate and adapt to the potential impacts. The data also suggest, however, that there is ongoing disagreement as to whether the causes of climate change are natural fluctuations or are a consequence of human activity. The survey showed a pattern of 'optimism bias' - the belief that one is less likely than other people to experience something negative. In general, people felt they themselves would be harmed the least by climate change, and those most unlike them (those in poor, developing nations, and people in the world generally) would be harmed the most.

Access the climate attitudes survey reports


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