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Environmental protesters holding up placards, with a homemade sign that reads 'There is no Planet B'

Ahead of COP28, the first large-scale bespoke survey to engage with people of colour in the UK on climate change, has revealed attitudes towards climate change, policy responses, and their experiences of climate change impacts such as heatwaves and flooding. 

With the COP28 conference in Dubai imminent, there is much discussion about which voices will take centre stage. Given the global implications of climate change impacts, it remains essential to galvanise action across as wide a cross-section of society as possible. Yet, for UK policy, research, and organising around climate change mitigation, inclusion remains a problem. 

In our research engaging environmental NGOs and policy actors, we uncovered a prevailing assumption that climate change was not a key concern for people of colour in the UK. But when we actually asked people of colour what they thought, we found that the opposite was true. Our survey showed that people of colour are not only highly concerned and deeply engaged with climate change as a policy issue, but also willing to make profound lifestyle changes in order to confront it.

We present the findings of this research project, in a new report, Spotlight: How people of colour experience and engage with climate change in Britain. This research marks the first large-scale, bespoke survey to engage with people of colour in the UK on climate change. We surveyed 1,008 people, asking about their attitudes towards climate change, policy responses, and their experiences of climate change impacts like heatwaves and flooding. Taking such a large sample enabled us to distribute evenly across ethnicity, age, political leaning, region, religious affiliation and household income.

This study has broken new ground, both in terms of its focus on people of colour in the UK and in terms of the rigorous psychometric design we employed. It is one of the first studies ever to have been conducted with this UK audience around climate change.

Dr Jeremy Kidwell, Department of Theology and Religion

What we found is that an overwhelming number of our respondents (92%) believe that climate change is happening and that it is caused by human activity (84%). This sense of awareness was matched by concern. 83% are fairly or very worried about climate change with a similar proportion indicating that they worry about the effects of climate change in places outside the UK (85%). The connection between concern and action was clear: a very high number of people of colour reported that they had changed their lifestyle to reduce impact on the environment or climate (73%).

These findings make it all the more concerning that environmentalism has a diversity problem. Only 5% of the UK’s environment and climate professionals identify as being from an ethnic minority background – compared with 13% across other professions. In a recent study of climate policy and action events in Bristol, researchers found that ethnic minority voices make up around 3% of climate policy and action discussions, speaking only 1-2% of the time, on average. In contrast, white men spoke for 64% of the time. These problems around inclusion are matched by media portrayals which routinely fail to accurately represent people of colour’s concerns about climate change. It should not come as a surprise then, that a large proportion of our respondents (80%) indicated that they had not participated as a member of an environmental organisation. 

While a surprisingly large number of people (63%) reported that they had not encountered the concept of climate justice”, most respondents were supportive of key justice concepts. They agreed that climate change has worse impacts on the poor (70%), that climate change will exacerbate existing inequalities within and between countries (60%), and that people from frontline communities should have greater representation in decision-making about climate solutions (60%). Nearly half of respondents in our study agreed that climate change is linked with colonialism and capitalism (49%).

This study has broken new ground, both in terms of its focus on people of colour in the UK and in terms of the rigorous psychometric design we employed. It is one of the first studies ever to have been conducted with this UK audience around climate change. In analysing this data, we quickly realised that we were asking questions which had not been asked before in many climate change policy spaces, and these questions and the conversations that arose were a crucial part of the research results. Going forward, it is more essential than ever before to establish new patterns of collective policy creation, process ownership and communication.