The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has today (Friday, December 10) published the first report from its ‘Climate Change in the Irish Mind’ project.

The work was undertaken by EPA and the Yale University Programme on Climate Change Communication (its academic partner) in support of the National Dialogue on Climate Action.

This is the first nationally representative survey of its kind in Ireland, according to the EPA.

The project aims to develop a better understanding of the Irish population by conducting a baseline study of public climate change beliefs, risk perceptions, policy preferences, and behaviour of the Irish public to climate change.

The research shows that a large majority of people (92%) support increasing forest areas to offset greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture, while fewer (64%) support reducing the size of the national cattle herd to reduce GHG emissions from agriculture.

Source: EPA

EPA project 

The EPA said that the project will deliver three key outputs:

  1. A ‘Climate Change in the Irish Mind’ report;
  2. A segmentation report;
  3. An online interactive map. 

Today’s report “Climate Change in the Irish Mind” is based on a nationally representative survey of more than 4000 people during the summer of 2021, conducted by the survey research firm Behaviours and Attitudes.

Speaking about the report Laura Burke, Director General of the EPA said:

“The findings of this report are definitive. This is an important first step in a very valuable project that will help to understand how Irish people perceive the environmental challenge, and that can fundamentally change how we all communicate on the topic.

“The findings of the survey clearly demonstrate that the Irish people overwhelmingly recognise the threat, feel personally affected and want to see real change.

“It demonstrates that – as a country – we are ready for the transition to climate neutrality and resilience, people see the benefits to themselves and Ireland in general and many are already advanced on the journey,” she added.

The findings will be used to support climate change awareness and engagement campaigns, the design of national policy and climate action.

Findings of the survey

There are very high levels of awareness of climate change among the Irish population, people are informed and understand the implications of a changing climate.

They see that opportunities exist for jobs, innovation and wellbeing in taking climate action, according to the survey.

The EPA stated: “About one in three people in Ireland correctly identified agriculture as the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland.”

According to the EPA, in 2019 the agricultural sector was the largest producer of GHG emissions in Ireland, followed by the transport, energy (including fossil fuel industries) and residential sectors.

Data source: EPA

According to this latest research, about one in three people in Ireland (33%) “correctly identified agriculture as Ireland’s largest source of the pollution that causes climate change”.

Many people in Ireland identified other producers of GHG emissions as the largest producer, including transport (23%), energy industries (22%) the waste sector (16%) and the residential sector (6%)

About nine in ten residents (92%) say they “strongly” or “somewhat” support increasing forest areas in their locality to offset greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, including about seven in ten (69%) who say they “strongly” support this action.

A majority (64%) also say they “strongly” or “somewhat” support reducing the size of the national cattle herd to reduce GHG emissions from agriculture, including 30% who say they “strongly” support it.

About one in three residents (36%) say they oppose reducing the size of the national cattle herd, including 17% who say they “strongly” oppose it.

Speaking about the report, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan said:

“The cornerstone of the National Dialogue for Climate Action (NDCA) is to engage and empower everyone in society to transition towards a climate neutral economy in a way that is fair, just, and accessible. 

“This research shows that Irish people are well informed and understand and support the need for climate action. The research programme will provide valuable insights as we develop policies and initiatives that will support people as we make this transition together.”

The research indicates that people want the government to act by developing climate friendly policy. They are also willing to change their political and consumption behaviours but to a lesser degree.

The EPA said this demonstrates that people are aware of the systems changes that are required to effect change and they are also aware of their own responsibilities to act.

The agency added that this points to the need for more behavioural insights as to what supports people need to affect change.

Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Programme on Climate Change Communication said:

“The Irish people overwhelmingly accept the findings of climate science and strongly support a whole-of-society response. They are ready for a national dialogue on climate action and primed to lead the world by their example.”

The next report in this series, will focus on a segmentation of the Irish population and is expected in quarter one of 2022.

Survey details

According to the EPA, the data in the report is based on a representative survey of 4,000 residents of the Republic of Ireland, aged 18 and older.

The survey was conducted May 24 to July 29, 2021. All questionnaires were administered by call agents using computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) software. The survey took, on average, 25 minutes to complete.

Survey respondents were recruited using a random digit dial sample of live Irish telephone numbers. About 80% of survey respondents were reached through mobile phone numbers and 20% through landline phone numbers.

A total of 84,961 numbers were dialled and 4,030 interviews were completed (including 30 pilot interviews to test survey wording and timing), for a response rate of 5%.

Gender, age, work status, and region quotas were used to ensure sample representation. Key demographic variables were also weighted, post survey, to match Central Statistics Office (CSO) norms.