Three-quarters of Australians back target of net zero by 2030, Guardian Essential poll shows

Katharine Murphy Political editor
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: QLD Fire and Emergency SE/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: QLD Fire and Emergency SE/AFP/Getty Images

Public support for action on climate change is higher now than it was at the peak of the catastrophic bushfires last summer, according to the latest Guardian Essential poll, which shows a strong majority supporting a net zero target by 2050.

The latest survey of 1,034 voters has 81% support for the Morrison government adopting a net zero emissions target by 2050 – which is a 10 point increase in the level of voter support for the policy recorded back in January.

The survey suggests a majority of voters would favour stronger climate action earlier, with 75% of the sample supportive of setting a net zero target by 2030 rather than mid-century, which is an 11 point increase since January.

Public support is also there to ban political donations from fossil fuel companies (72% support, up from 62% in January), and 87% of the sample say they would support accelerating the development of new industries and jobs that are powered by renewable energy (up from 81% during the fires).

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The survey also indicates a majority would support a policy of requiring mining companies to fund bushfire hazard reduction (80% support compared with 68% support in January).

While support for adopting the net zero target by mid-century is higher among people who identify as Labor and Greens voters in the sample, that policy is also supported by 75% of people identifying themselves as Coalition supporters.

The survey indicates Australian women support meaningful climate action more than men, especially regarding setting a zero-carbon pollution target for 2030 (81% to 69%) and setting the same target for 2050 (83% to 78%).

While the survey suggests climate action in Australia is now a cause with strong majority support, some issues remain controversial. Australians remain divided about whether we should be opening new coalmines (49% support new mines and 51% oppose them) and whether the fossil fuel industry should get taxpayer subsidies (42% support and 58% oppose this).

Public attitudes on coal are more static than on climate action. Compared with the sentiment captured in Guardian Essential earlier this year, more people now think the government should let the coalmining industry and coal-fired power plants continue operating as long as they are profitable – but not subsidise them or support the expansion of the industry (47% to 52%).

In February, 32% of the sample thought the government should be working to shut down mines and coal-fired power plants as soon as possible, and that’s remained steady (31% in November 2020) within the poll’s margin of error, which is plus or minus three points.

When it comes to power prices, voters were also asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement: “It doesn’t matter how electricity is generated, as long as prices don’t go up, and the supply is secure”.

Nearly half of the sample agreed with the statement (47%) and about a third (29%) disagreed. Men were more likely to strongly agree with the statement than women (30% to 18% respectively). Coalition voters were also more likely to agree compared with other voting cohorts (55% to 43% Labor, 23% Greens and 48% minor party voters).

Voters were asked questions about their support for climate action in this fortnight’s survey because the Morrison government is starting to warm up gradually to the idea of net zero – a noticeable shift in language that accompanied Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election in the United States.

For much of 2020, the Coalition ignored persistent entreaties from environmentalists and major business groups to adopt a target of net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest, and to use the economic recovery from Covid-19 to lock in the transition to low emissions.

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The prime minister never ruled out adopting a net zero target but created the impression the government wasn’t interested – an impression reinforced by the government’s declaration that it would pursue a “gas-led recovery” after the pandemic.

But Morrison now says Australia wants to “reach net zero emissions as quickly as possible” – although he is continuing to say he won’t adopt the target unless he can explain the pathway and quantify the costs.

As well as warming up on net zero, Morrison signalled to business leaders last week his government may not need carryover credits from the Kyoto era to meet its 2030 emissions reduction target, because he was “confident our policies will get this job done”.

Official government emissions projections released in December last year found the country was not on track to meet its 2030 target submitted under the Paris climate agreement unless it used the credits, and Australia has been criticised internationally for using Kyoto-era accounting to meet its commitments rather than concrete abatement.

But Morrison’s positioning ahead of the release of new emissions projections this month suggests the updated forecasts will show the 2030 target can be reached without carryovers. Government figures released on Monday showed Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions fell 3% in the year to June because of the Covid-19 shutdown, the ongoing impact of drought and an influx of cheap solar and wind power.