British public conviction about the threat of climate change has declined sharply after months of questions over the science and growing disillusionment with government action, a leading poll has found.

The proportion of British adults who believe climate change is “definitely” a reality has dropped from 44 per cent to 31 per cent in the last year, according to the latest survey by Ipsos Mori.

Overall, about nine in 10 people questioned still appear to accept that some degree of global warming is happening.

But the steep drop in those who have no doubts could mean it will be harder to persuade the public to support action to curb the problem, particularly with higher prices for energy and other goods.

The poll also found a significant drop in those who said climate change was caused by human activities. A year ago this number was one in three, but this year just one in five people believe global warming to be caused by people, according to Edward Langley, Ipsos Mori's head of environment research.

“It's going to be a hard sell to make people make changes to their behaviour unless there's something else in it for them — [such as] energy efficiency measures saving money on fuel bills,” said Mr. Langley. “It's a hard sell to tell people not to fly off for weekends away if you're not wholly convinced by the links. Even people who are [convinced] still do it.” The latest poll, taken at the end of January, follows two months of allegations which claimed climate scientists might have manipulated and withheld data, and the inclusion of a flawed statement on Himalayan glaciers in the influential 2007 report on the science and impact of climate change by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

However, whether or not these events are behind the public uncertainty is in doubt. Russ Lidstone, chief executive of the advertising agency Euro RSCG, which commissioned the Ipsos Mori survey, said the research among consumers found “great cynicism now as a result of questions in popular culture and regarding the credibility of IPCC data”.

But a recent poll for the BBC suggested these events had had less influence on U.K. public opinion than had the cold British winter.

U.K. Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband, who recently called on the public to ignore the “siren voices” of climate sceptics, said the poll illustrated the scale of the task of building public support for action. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

RELATED NEWS

Climate fight is heating up in deep freeze February 12, 2010

More In: Comment | Opinion