Majority of adults in Scotland concerned about climate change, but not sure how to tackle it

Report highlights need for clearer advice and information and stronger incentives to reach net zero targets.

Research commissioned by statutory consumer body Consumer Scotland found 77% of people in Scotland are concerned about climate change, with just 21% stating they are unconcerned and only nine per cent stating they are not at all concerned.

However, only 34% agreed they know what to do to help Scotland reach net zero, with 33% disagreeing and a further 34% saying they were unsure. Lack of information and cost were cited as barriers to positive change.

The Scottish and UK governments have both made commitments to achieving net zero emissions so that by 2045 in Scotland, and 2050 in the rest of the UK, we will no longer be adding to the total amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

It is widely recognised that reaching net zero targets will require a national effort with business, communities, and individuals contributing fully.

To help identify consumer engagement and progress towards decarbonisation, Consumer Scotland commissioned a survey of current attitudes across a range of markets including energy, water, postal deliveries, household goods, food and drink, transportation, and holidays.

The majority of respondents (91%) said they are already saving energy at home through low cost measures such as switching off lights and turning down heating thermostats and just over half (54%) reported improving their property’s energy performance, for example through better insulation or replacing doors or windows.

However, there was far less engagement with more significant interventions with only ten per cent having some form of renewable energy at home and most (82%) reporting they do not drive a hybrid or electric vehicle.

In some cases lack of information was cited as a reason. For example just under a quarter (23%) stated they did not know enough about heat pumps to be able to form a view.

Cost was also identified as a significant barrier to change across a range of actions including driving a hybrid or electric vehicle, having renewable technology in their home and installing a heat pump.

The survey also highlighted consumer perceptions that some simple environmentally friendly actions are ineffective.

Only 32% consider turning off the tap while brushing teeth, shaving, or washing and 31% believe ensuring dishwashers and washing machines are full before running may be ineffective at reducing the environmental impact.

And while some sustainable transport options have already been adopted by consumers with 70% choosing to walk or cycle and 60% trying to reduce their car mileage, only a minority are influenced by the environment when it comes to booking a holiday.

The survey found consumers look to the news media and local and national government for information about climate change and rank national governments, businesses and regulators as having most responsibility for reducing emissions.

Chief Executive of Consumer Scotland Sam Ghibaldan said:

“The Scottish and UK governments both have statutory commitments to achieving net zero emissions and have made clear that for that transition to be a success, all sectors will need to play their part in tackling climate change.

“Our survey shows consumers are concerned about climate change and many are making changes to how they live their lives to make a positive contribution to reaching net zero.

“However, it is clear consumers need better information on low carbon alternatives to enable them to make informed choices about how and what they buy, how they use energy and water at home and how they travel.

“Financial support for those that need it would also help drive change where greener alternatives are seen as expensive.

“Consumers look to governments and businesses to provide leadership, guidance and solutions for tackling climate change. It is key therefore that governments and business work to help consumers in the net zero transition, making it easy for them to change habits and behaviours.

“The public needs clear information about everyday changes that make a difference, and more needs to be done to make sustainable alternatives affordable and accessible. This will be key to enabling low carbon options to compete with the more familiar, less sustainable, options that dominate currently.”


Consumers and the transition to net zero

Consumer Scotland is the statutory body for consumers in Scotland established in April 2022 under the Consumer Scotland Act 2020. It is a Non-Ministerial Office independent of government and accountable to the Scottish Parliament.

In late 2022/early 2023 Consumer Scotland commissioned online surveys with adults (aged 16+) resident in Scotland.

The project was delivered across two workstreams. The first workstream comprised an energy and water sectors survey, with fieldwork taking place between 24th and 28th February 2023. A total of 2,269 completed responses were achieved.

The second workstream comprised a pilot survey covering general consumer markets with fieldwork taking place between 7th and 9th March 2023. A total of 622 completed responses were achieved.

Consumer Scotland will commission follow up research in 2023/2024 to examine in more detail consumers’ motivations, values, and social norms and how these intersect with the real and perceived barriers consumers face.