In this post, Guest Analyst, Monica Gessner from research consultancy Instinct and Reason analyses the latest Catalyst data on sentiments of UK and Australian consumers post the COP26 climate change conference.
As Australia and the world look beyond COVID-19, climate change has resumed center stage. In August this year, the UN released a ‘code red’ report on the already irreversible changes observed. Climate change has again become the top social concern among Australians and citizens around the world.
This month in particular, eyes have turned to the COP26 Climate Change summit in Glasgow, with pressure on governments to take action, and Australia in particular in the spotlight.
In this context, we sought to understand Australian emotions and expectations coming out of COP26, how this differed across generations, and the potential implications for communications strategies and community engagement. To understand these, we sourced data from Glow’s November Catalyst consumer study in both Australia and the UK.
[Before / After] the COP 26 Summit, which of the following words would you use to describe how you [felt /now feel] about climate change?
Top of the list, Australians are feeling a mix of frustration and hopefulness about climate change. This remains unchanged following the summit, with the impacts of any specific strategies from the summit yet to be realised.
While frustrations remain, COP26 has caused a slight positive shift in sentiments – largely reflecting decreases in pessimism, sadness and feeling of being overwhelmed. In particular, those most concerned about climate change have felt increased hope and optimism as a result of the Summit discussions.
Amid the mixed negative and positive emotions, around one-tenth of Australians feel ambivalent or numb about the issue.
Notably, the experiences and sentiments differ between generations. It is in the top-ranking sentiments post COP26 that we see the greatest differences.
- Much politicising has been made of Generation Z (18–24-year-olds) led by Greta Thunberg, and the heightened sense of urgency this generation feels about climate change. Among this generation, the top emotion after COP26 is feeling overwhelmed, followed by frustration and stress.
- In contrast, with many Millennials (age 25-44) at the forefront of today’s innovations to address climate change, the greatest sentiment among this group is hopefulness followed by optimism.
- Generation X (aged 45-54) are the most frustrated, and even more so after COP26, while Baby Boomers expressed a mix of all emotions, feeling hopeful but also frustrated and pessimistic both before and after COP26.
What impact do you think the recent UN talks in Glasgow on climate change (COP26) will have on the world reaching NET Zero emissions by 2050?
Beyond simply emotions, respondents were asked about the expected impact of the Summit.
Roughly half of Australians (49%) believe the summit will result in very little to no change in the world achieving net zero emissions by 2050. 31% of Australians believe that the COP26 summit will have at least some positive impact.
Those who are closest to the topic (rated climate change as requiring immediate action) are even more bullish, with 37% expecting some positive impact and another 6% expecting significant positive changes.
Hopes and expectations are highest among the younger generations, with 44% of 18-44 year olds (Gen Z and Millennials) expecting positive changes.
Australia vs UK expectations
The same set of questions were asked of residents in the UK. The results are similar, with climate change the number one concern, and high frustration mixed with hopefulness. However, UK residents are more pessimistic about climate change – particularly after COP26, with greater expectations that little will change.
What does this all mean for businesses and government looking forward?
- Even as the world continues to battle and ‘learn to live with COVID-19’, climate change is a top concern. Yet only half are engaged with the topic (rating it as requiring the most immediate action), with younger generations least engaged.
- While the need for action is clear, communications and engagement with the community should be catered to generational differences – particularly with younger generations. Millennials are the most optimistic and most likely to seek ways to actively engage in driving action and outcomes. This willingness to engage should be leveraged by both government and businesses. Gen Z requires greater support mechanisms to address their feelings of being overwhelmed and stressed. Pathways for Gen Z to be empowered and engage in solutions could also be developed.
In an environment where skepticism on climate action is high, effective communications and engagement strategies could help engage citizens to become a stronger part of the solution.
Monica Gessner is Head of Consulting, Australia at Instinct and Reason, a market and social research and strategy organisation with a range of prestigious clients in Australia and overseas.
Monica has over 20 years’ experience in the research industry, is an accredited Qualified Professional Researcher (QPR) of The Research Society and holds an MBA from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management