Five things our next federal government needs to know about what Canadians think about climate change

The numbers are in: poll after poll shows climate change is one of the top issues on Canadians’ minds heading into the federal election this fall.

To get a better picture of Canadian attitudes towards the climate crisis, Ecojustice and Climate Action Network Canada commissioned Environics to conduct an exclusive survey of our own. The results shed light on what Canadians think about the country’s climate progress to date and what type of laws they consider necessary to combat the climate emergency.

We drew on these survey results and other recent polling to come up with five key takeaways any party vying to form the next government should know:

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1.      Canadians care about climate change. Four in 10 say we’re in an emergency situation. (Abacus Data)

A survey from Abacus Data, released on Aug. 12, shows 82 per cent of Canadians say climate change is a serious problem. Seth Klein, an adjunct professor with Simon Fraser University’s Urban Studies program, commissioned the polling.

When asked to rate the seriousness of five key issues, respondents’ concern about climate change ranked second only to the rising cost of living. Concern about climate change surpassed worries about wealth and income inequality in society, increasing automation of work, and the loss of good paying jobs, and increasing immigration to Canada.

Furthermore, 42 per cent of Canadians told Abacus Data they believe climate change is now an emergency. Another 20 per cent said they feel climate change is not yet an emergency, but will likely be one in the next few years.

2.      Canadians have mixed views about the country’s efforts to date at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (Environics)

Just under half (46 per cent) of Canadians say Canada’s been very or somewhat effective at reducing GHG emissions. A similar percentage (45 per cent) say Canada hasn’t been very effective or has not been effective at all at reducing emissions.

Interestingly, however, the results suggest there is uncertainty across the board when it comes to how Canadians view efforts to tackle climate change.

When asked their views on Canada’s effectiveness to date at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, 72 per cent of Canadians opted for middle categories of “somewhat effective” or “not very effective.”

3.      A majority of Canadians say we need strict emissions targets to address climate change (Environics)

We know that Canadians care about climate change, but Ecojustice and Climate Action Network also wanted to understand what type of solutions people want to see. As Canada’s largest environmental law charity, we were particularly interested in solutions grounded in the law.

Our polling suggests the majority of Canadians (61 per cent) think strict emissions reductions targets are necessary if governments are to effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

4.      A majority of Canadians believe that, in order to be effective, emissions reductions targets must be legally-binding, rather than voluntary. (Environics)

Importantly, Environics polling also showed Canadians support making emissions reduction targets mandatory and legally-binding. More than two-thirds of Canadians (66 per cent) told Environics that targets must be enshrined in the law in order to ensure governments take responsibility for meeting them and sticking to their deadlines.

5.      When Canadians head to the polls in October, climate change will be one of the top issues influencing their votes. (Abacus Data)

In March, a total of 69 per cent of respondents said climate change will be in the top five issues they’re voting on, according to a nation-wide Abacus Data survey.

According to the data, concern about climate change was relatively consistent across the country, with only a few provinces standing out as outliers. Concern over climate change was lower than average in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but notably higher in Quebec.

What do the numbers tell us?

These numbers paint a compelling picture of attitudes towards climate change in Canada. They tell us Canadians care about climate change, many view it as an urgent emergency, and the majority believe legally-binding emissions targets must play a role in addressing this crisis.

If Canada’s next federal government takes one thing away from these results, it should be that Canadians want climate action grounded in the rule of law.

No matter which party or parties form government after Oct. 21, we need leaders who will respond to the climate emergency with a Canadian climate change law. This law must be based on legally-binding emissions targets and give Canadians the power to hold government to account for achieving them.

We know the clock is ticking on our ability to combat the worst impacts of climate change. The crisis is already harming Canadians’ health, security, and well-being. And this election, the numbers suggest Canadians want a federal government that is committed to passing a new law to tackle the climate emergency – and to do so before it is too late.

Environics survey methodology:

The Environics polling results are based on telephone interviews with more than 2,000 Canadian adults in June 2019. The margin of error for a random probability sample of this size is plus or minus 2.2 percentage points at the 95 per cent confidence level.

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