Climate change is a significant threat in Australia. Extreme heat, floods, droughts and wildfires are all increasingly impacting lives and livelihoods. Now, one of Australia’s most ambitious climate change surveys to date confirms three out of four Australians are concerned about climate change and support policies that limit the impacts.

The Climate Action Survey, carried out by Griffith University’s Climate Action Beacon, concludes that climate change is now a mainstream issue. The majority of Australians – 72.5 per cent – are concerned and demand government action. “A clear majority of survey respondents – and, by extension, the majority of adult Australians – accept that climate change is real, are concerned about the harm it is causing, are in favour of government action to mitigate the threat it poses and are taking action themselves to tackle the problem”, states the report. 

The number of Australians who are ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ concerned about the effects of climate change has more than doubled in just ten years, said lead author Associate Professor Sameer Deshpande. “In terms of sample size, methodological rigour, multidisciplinary input and breadth of coverage, it was one of the most ambitious climate change surveys yet conducted in Australia”, he said.

Key findings

In total, 3,915 Australian adults completed the online questionnaire. The key findings are as follows:

  • 87 per cent of the respondents indicated that they believed climate change should be a priority for the government. 
  • 22 per cent believed that climate change was an ‘extremely serious’ problem right now. 45 per cent believed that it would be so in 2050.  
  • 52 per cent of respondents had experienced an extreme weather event or natural disaster at some point in their life. Within this, 2 per cent had experienced an injury as a result, and 19 per cent had suffered financially.
  • 31 per cent of respondents had experienced an extreme weather event or natural disaster in the preceding year.
  • Those who had expressed greater concern and distress about climate change were more likely to engage in pro-environmental actions.

The respondents were also asked an open-ended question to name their biggest concern about climate change. The most common responses included natural disasters and extreme weather events, such as bushfires, floods, and sea-level rise. Responses also included human and social problems, such as food shortages, civil unrest and societal breakdown.

Concern about climate change is also influencing changes in personal behaviour and lifestyles. Of the respondents, 48 per cent had thrown away less food in the last year to reduce their impact on climate change. In addition, 28 per cent stated they had eaten less red meat and 29 per cent had driven less. The survey also found that 61 per cent of respondents support renewable infrastructure in their area. Over half were also willing to reduce personal energy use to limit their impact on the climate.

How different groups view climate change

Of the respondents, 77 per cent were firm believers in the reality of climate change, while 16 per cent were unconvinced about climate change. There were 5 per cent who were sceptics, and approximately 2 per cent of the survey population were climate change deniers. 

Those 35 years or under, students and university-educated were among the groups with high levels of climate change understanding, concern and action, said Associate Professor Graham Bradley. “Climate change denial, disregard, and inaction were more common among the older, less highly educated, and more politically conservative members of the survey population”, he added. Women reported stronger beliefs and greater climate change concerns than males.​​

The results showed climate change would be important to 76 per cent of respondents when voting in the federal election. But, this percentage varied widely by preferred political party: Australian Greens (90 per cent), Australian Labor Party (72 per cent), Liberal Party (45 per cent), National Party (54 per cent) and One Nation Party (33 per cent).  

The survey also shows that Australians gather information about climate change from various sources. “They place most trust in scientists and scientific publications, and in long-established government organisations like the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO. They rate politicians and social media as the least trustworthy source of climate change information”, Associate Professor Kerrie Foxwell-Norton said. Reasons for not engaging in pro-environmental climate actions were entrenched routines or habits, insufficient time and or money, and lack of knowledge about what actions to take, she added.  

The report was the first of five annual surveys to deliver a rich source of data on climate change attitudes and behaviours. Analyses of data and consideration of the implications of the findings are ongoing. The second survey will take place in September 2022.