Five things our next federal government needs to know about what Canadians think about climate change

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The numbers are in: poll after poll shows climate change is one of the top issues on Canadians’ minds heading into the federal election this fall.

To get a better picture of Canadian attitudes towards the climate crisis, Ecojustice and Climate Action Network Canada commissioned Environics to conduct an exclusive survey of our own. The results shed light on what Canadians think about the country’s climate progress to date and what type of laws they consider necessary to combat the climate emergency.

We drew on these survey results and other recent polling to come up with five key takeaways any party vying to form the next government should know:

Infographic - Climate polling

1.      Canadians care about climate change. Four in 10 say we’re in an emergency situation. (Abacus Data)

A survey from Abacus Data, released on Aug. 12, shows 82 per cent of Canadians say climate change is a serious problem. Seth Klein, an adjunct professor with Simon Fraser University’s Urban Studies program, commissioned the polling.

When asked to rate the seriousness of five key issues, respondents’ concern about climate change ranked second only to the rising cost of living. Concern about climate change surpassed worries about wealth and income inequality in society, increasing automation of work, and the loss of good paying jobs, and increasing immigration to Canada.

Furthermore, 42 per cent of Canadians told Abacus Data they believe climate change is now an emergency. Another 20 per cent said they feel climate change is not yet an emergency, but will likely be one in the next few years.

2.      Canadians have mixed views about the country’s efforts to date at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (Environics)

Just under half (46 per cent) of Canadians say Canada’s been very or somewhat effective at reducing GHG emissions. A similar percentage (45 per cent) say Canada hasn’t been very effective or has not been effective at all at reducing emissions.

Interestingly, however, the results suggest there is uncertainty across the board when it comes to how Canadians view efforts to tackle climate change.

When asked their views on Canada’s effectiveness to date at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, 72 per cent of Canadians opted for middle categories of “somewhat effective” or “not very effective.”

3.      A majority of Canadians say we need strict emissions targets to address climate change (Environics)

We know that Canadians care about climate change, but Ecojustice and Climate Action Network also wanted to understand what type of solutions people want to see. As Canada’s largest environmental law charity, we were particularly interested in solutions grounded in the law.

Our polling suggests the majority of Canadians (61 per cent) think strict emissions reductions targets are necessary if governments are to effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

4.      A majority of Canadians believe that, in order to be effective, emissions reductions targets must be legally-binding, rather than voluntary. (Environics)

Importantly, Environics polling also showed Canadians support making emissions reduction targets mandatory and legally-binding. More than two-thirds of Canadians (66 per cent) told Environics that targets must be enshrined in the law in order to ensure governments take responsibility for meeting them and sticking to their deadlines.

5.      When Canadians head to the polls in October, climate change will be one of the top issues influencing their votes. (Abacus Data)

In March, a total of 69 per cent of respondents said climate change will be in the top five issues they’re voting on, according to a nation-wide Abacus Data survey.

According to the data, concern about climate change was relatively consistent across the country, with only a few provinces standing out as outliers. Concern over climate change was lower than average in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but notably higher in Quebec. MORE

Poll shows whopping concern among Canadians about climate change—82 percent say it’s a serious problem

Vancouver public intellectual Seth Klein commissioned the poll by Abacus Data because he felt that opinion research was overly focused on the carbon tax and actions that individuals can take to address climate change.
Vancouver public intellectual Seth Klein commissioned the poll by Abacus Data because he felt that opinion research was overly focused on the carbon tax and actions that individuals can take to address climate change.

People across the country are waking up to the risks of rising greenhouse gas emissions.

In a new poll by Abacus Data, 82 percent of respondents said that climate change is a serious problem.

Nearly half, 47 percent, described it as an “extremely serious” problem.

More than four in 10 described climate change as an emergency.

Only 12 percent felt that climate change was not something that people should be concerned about.

The poll also demonstrated a high level of anxiety across the country over this issue.

One in four Canadians told Abacus that they often think about climate change and it makes them really anxious.

Nearly double that percentage stated that they think about it sometimes and that they’re increasingly worried about its impact.

Residents of Quebec were the most anxious whereas Albertans were the least anxious.

However, Abacus Data reported that even in Alberta, 58 percent of respondents said they “are either anxious and thinking about it all the time or think about it sometimes but becoming increasingly worried about the impact it will have”.

The poll was commissioned by Vancouver resident Seth Klein, the brother of author Naomi Klein and an adjunct professor with SFU’s urban studies program.

In a policy note on the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives website, Klein stated that he commissioned the poll because “far too much of the political oxygen and polling on climate change has been consumed by the carbon tax/pricing debate”.

“While carbon pricing is an important tool, it alone is not going to get us where we need to go, and the topic has distracted us from the scale of action needed,” he wrote. “Additionally, too often polling questions individualize the challenge and solutions, rather than focusing on collective and governmental actions.”

Seth Klein@SethDKlein

What did my polling find? Three-quarters of Cdns say they are worried about climate change.
25% “think about climate change often and are getting really anxious about it”
49% “think about it sometimes and are getting increasingly worried”

Seth Klein@SethDKlein

Stunningly, 42% believe climate change is now “an emergency”, while a further 20% believe it will likely be an emergency within the next few years, for a combined total of 62%.

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Only 14 percent of respondents in the poll said that they had definitely heard of the “Green New Deal”, which is being advanced by progressives on both sides of the border to bring about a rapid, climate-friendly retooling of the economy.

Another 19 percent thought they had heard of it.

When the Green New Deal was explained to respondents, 72 percent stated they were either strongly or somewhat supportive. MORE


When it comes to climate action, the public is ahead of our politics: Analysis of national climate poll