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A tree knocked down by Storm Debi in November 2023 Sasko Lazarov/

Irish people are getting more and more worried about storms and extreme heat - climate study

The majority of the public are worried about climate change, including one-third who describe themselves as “very worried”.

PEOPLE IN IRELAND are becoming increasingly worried about the risk of extreme weather events due to climate change, with concerns about storms and heatwaves rising significantly in the last several years alone.

New research released today by the Environmental Protection Authority has examined how well people in Ireland understand climate change and its causes and risks, as well as levels of support for climate action.

The “Climate Change in the Irish Mind” survey was first conducted in 2021 and again in 2023, allowing researchers to see how attitudes about climate change have developed.

A sample of 1,330 adults, chosen at random through dialling Irish phone numbers, were surveyed through 25-minute phone interviews. Quotas were used for age, gender, work status and religion to reach a sample representative of broader population demographics.

The majority of the public, 81%, are worried about climate change, including 34% who describe themselves as “very worried”.

People are becoming more worried about storms and extreme heat, both of which can be made more frequent, more intense and more likely due to climate change.

74% are worried about severe storms, representing a rise of ten percentage points between 2021 and 2023. 54% are worried about extreme heat, a jump from 45% two years prior.

Met Éireann data shows that Ireland has seen record-breaking temperatures in recent years, while extreme weather events have caused damage in many local areas. 

The new EPA survey was conducted between 30 August and 6 October 2023, meaning that Storms Babet, Ciarán and Debi had not yet occurred – though Storm Agnes, which reached gusts of 117 kilometres an hour, had hit its peak on 27 September.

The previous storm season saw Ireland hit by four named storms earlier in 2023: Otto, Noa, Antoni and Betty.

Alarm bells were raised in many parts of Europe and the rest of the world in July 2023 when scorching heat during the Cerberus heatwave pushed temperatures to record-breaking heights. 

The previous month, Ireland had seen its hottest June on record, breaking a previous record that had held for 83 years since June 1940.

Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan has said that the new EPA report shows people are concerned about climate change and believe that taking climate action will have positive impacts.

“This survey also shows us that climate is not an issue that divides people as much as it unites us,” the minister said in a statement, adding that the government must “listen and act”.

“Our transition to a new way of doing things must be fair, it must involve everyone and it must ensure that things will be better,” he said.

CCIM Wave 2 Beliefs and Attitudes Infographic Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Protection Agency

88% think climate change is affecting Ireland’s weather and 75% think extreme weather poses either a high or moderate risk to their community over the next decade. 

79% of people are worried about water pollution in their local area, 68% are worried about air pollution, and 62% about flooding.

EPA Director General Laura Burke said the survey found that people in Ireland are aware of the impacts of climate change and are worried about the harm it may cause.

“People are engaged with this issue, talking about it with their friends and families and hearing about it frequently in the media,” Burke said.

Despite the many challenges, including cost of living increases, people remain positive about the benefits of climate action for our economy and quality of life.

“There continues to be majority support for a range of climate policies,” she said.

“In particular, we see overwhelming support for improved public transport and renewable energy, which can deliver significant emissions reductions, air quality improvements as well as delivering cost savings for individuals.”

Climate knowledge 

The vast majority of people in Ireland understand that climate change is a real problem and that it is linked to human activities.

95% agreed that climate change is happening. 53% said they believe it is mostly caused by humans, though there is still a cohort of 39% who thought it was caused roughly equally by human influence and natural changes.

Four in five people understand that there is consensus among scientists that climate change is happening.  

Around three-quarters said they hear about climate change in the media once a week or more often – a significant increase since 2021, when the figure stood at 51%.

95% of people recognise the term ‘greenhouse effect’ and 84% understand that it refers to the process of gases in the atmosphere trapping heat close to the earth’s surface.

However, there was notable confusion over whether the greenhouse effect was linked to other terms like acid rain or the ozone layer. 

78% incorrectly thought the greenhouse effect was about the “earth’s protective ozone layer” and 64% thought it also referred to the “pollution that causes acid rain”.

Taking action

Most of the public – 87% – say Ireland has a responsibility to act on climate change and reduce its emissions, with only 12% thinking Ireland is too small to make a difference and should leave it up to other countries.

Three-quarters think actions to reduce climate change will improve quality of life in Ireland and just over half (56%) think climate action will increase economic growth and create jobs.

Asked whether the government should prioritise action on climate change, 79% thought it should be either a very high or high priority.

CCIM Wave 2 Climate Related Behaviours Infographic Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Protection Agency

The study identified several potential climate action measures and asked participants whether they would support them.

There was widespread support for grants to encourage residential and commercial building owners to install cleaner and more efficient heating systems, invreased government investment in public transport like trains instead of motorways, and grants to make electric vehicles more affordable.

However, support for banning peat, coal and oil for home heating support fell from 68% in 2021 to 59% 2023, and support for higher taxes on cars that use petrol or diesel fell from 64% to 51%.

On the level of individual action, the new survey confirmed a trend identified in the 2021 report that people tend to overestimate the importance of lower-impact actions, such as reusing shopping bags and recycling, and underestimate higher-impact actions like switching to a plant based diet or taking fewer flights.

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