COVID-19 led to a decline in climate and environmental concern, evidence from UK panel data


A key question in understanding barriers to climate and environmental policy is whether changing economic conditions weaken individuals’support for climate and environmental action. The large body of literature examining this question, however, has come to contradictory results, with studies measuring changes within individuals typically finding no such effect (e.g. Mildenberger and Leiserowitz 2017). In this letter, I use the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic to provide a stringent test of how economic shocks affect concern for climate change and the environment. Using panel data from the UK, that was collected just before (November 2019) and just after (June 2020) the outbreak of COVID-19, I find that the pandemic caused individuals to significantly deprioritise climate change and the environment in absolute terms, and the environment relative to the economy. These effects significantly vary depending upon individuals’employment trajectories, concerns about the cost of living, and ideological preferences, but do not significantly vary by individuals’prior vote choice. The findings suggest that in times of severe economic distress, unlike smaller economic downturns, climate change and the environment is deprioritised. This has implications for our understanding of the political feasibility of climate and environmental action, when individuals are faced with harsh economic conditions.

Climatic Change 174
Liam F. Beiser-McGrath
Liam F. Beiser-McGrath
Assistant Professor in International Social and Public Policy