Low public awareness of Climate Change?

4th December 2015
Press Release

The release today of a study by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) that claimed just 49% of respondents believe climate change is a ‘serious problem’ appears to highlight the gap that exists in Irish society between the undisputed reality of climate change and public awareness and engagement on this grave global emergency.

According to the fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems”. The IPCC goes on to warn that “The risks of abrupt or irreversible changes increase as the magnitude of the warming increases.”

A recent review of over 12,000 climate science papers [Note 1] found a 97% consensus among papers taking a position on the cause of global warming in the peer-reviewed literature that humans are responsible.

The World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim added: “Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today. Climate change is one of the single biggest challenges facing development, and we need to assume the moral responsibility to take action on behalf of future generations, especially the poorest”.

“Taken at face value, the SEAI finding that only one in two Irish people is aware of the profound environmental crisis that threatens all our futures is both a wake-up call for Ireland and also an indictment of a collective failure to grasp the scale and gravity of the threats posed by climate change to our way of life”, said An Taisce climate change spokesman, John Gibbons.

He cautioned, however, that a comprehensive EU ‘Eurobarometer study [Note 2] on attitudes to climate change, carried out in May/June 2015, contradicted the SEAI’s findings: “Almost nine out of ten people surveyed in Ireland (88%) think that climate change is a serious problem, with 59% saying it is a "very serious" problem”, according to the Eurobarometer research.

Lower public awareness of the risks of climate change may also be explained by the fact that the intensity of coverage in the Irish media is among the lowest in Europe regarding climate change. DCU research [Note 3] found that, in 2014, Irish media coverage of climate change stood at 10.6 stories per title per month, compared with 58.4 per month in the rest of Europe.

Our national broadcaster has also struggled with environmental coverage. Its flagship current affairs programme, PrimeTime, framed its entire segment on climate change yesterday (3/12/2015) in terms of the possible costs of taking action, while ignoring the international evidence that far greater costs will accrue to societies and economies who fail to act on climate change.

The influential Stern Review [Note 4] on the economics of climate change for the UK government confirmed that the costs of inaction hugely outweigh the costs associated with addressing climate change, yet at no point in the PrimeTime report was this framing even alluded to. In the words of Lord Stern, “it is already very clear that the economic risks of inaction in the face of climate change are very severe”.



For further information, please call:
John Gibbons, An Taisce Climate Change Committee Tel: +353 87 233 2689
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce Tel: +353 87 241 1995
email: publicaffairs@antaisce.org
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland

  1. http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024;jsessionid=5E23587D69AF79491D66B26AA07CF569.c4.iopscience.cld.iop.org
  2. http://ec.europa.eu/ireland/press_office/news_of_the_day/pdf_files/2015/eurobarometer-climate-change-nov2015.pdf
  3. http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/why-the-media-doesn-t-care-about-climate-change-1.2443663
  4. http://www.wwf.se/source.php/1169157/Stern%20Report_Exec%20Summary.pdf
  5. http://www.seai.ie/News_Events/Press_Releases/2015/Only-half-of-citizens-convinced-that-climate-change-is-a-serious-problem.html