Should climate change action cost the economy? Canadians unsure, poll says

Click to play video: '77% of Canadians think something needs to done on climate change: Ipsos poll'
77% of Canadians think something needs to done on climate change: Ipsos poll
A new Ipsos poll done for Global News finds that 77 per cent of Canadians think something needs to be done about climate change. But about half the population believe there’s a need to weigh the cost to the economy when it comes to environmental efforts. When it comes to extreme weather events, 84 per cent are more concerned than five years ago – Aug 26, 2021

Following a summer of record-setting heatwaves and devastating forest fires, it has become clear to Canadians that something needs to be done about climate change. But new Ipsos polling suggests they are divided on whether fixing climate change should come at the cost of the country’s economy.

The Ipsos poll, conducted exclusively for Global News, also found that the issue of climate change had become a primary issue during this year’s election, ranking top five among respondents.

“The underlying current of the data here is that a lot of people like to treat the environment and the economy as a zero sum game, as mutually exclusive. But it seems to me that Canadians refuse to believe that’s the case,” said Ipsos Vice President Sean Simpson.

“They believe that we can, in fact, move towards greener policies, move towards actions that help stem climate change while at the same time growing the economy in a responsible manner.”

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Data from the poll, which interviewed 1,500 Canadians online over the weekend, found that 77 per cent of those surveyed said the country needs to do more to reverse its effects, but 51 per cent said the federal government needs to “balance economic considerations with environmental efforts.”

Meanwhile, 35 per cent of respondents said they believed Canada should do everything in its power to fight climate change, and 13 per cent said they felt “no urgency” to correct it if the country’s economy has to suffer. That said, 58 per cent agreed combatting climate change would require solutions that would negatively impact the economy.

Roughly 75 per cent of Canadians surveyed, regardless of party affiliation, said they could get on board with a carbon tax “if they knew the money collected was going directly to initiatives to combat climate change.”

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Conservatives were most likely to say that Canada needed to find a balance between the economy and the environment at 67 per cent, the poll found, in contrast to the 48 per cent those who identified as Liberal voters and 42 per cent who said they would vote NDP.

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Similarly, Conservative voters were also more likely to say that it wasn’t worth destabilizing the economy over at 19 per cent, versus three per cent of Liberals and seven per cent of NDP voters surveyed. Meanwhile, Green Party voters were the most likely to to “favour combating climate change, even if the economy slows” at 60 per cent, while 51 per cent of NDP voters, 47 per cent of Liberal voters and 14 per cent of Conservative voters agreed.

Simpson noted there was no generational divide on these beliefs.

“Age is no longer the primary determinant of whether you’re green (not the party), but in your in your attitudes and beliefs,” he said.

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“What that suggests is that there is an emerging consensus in Canada that it’s important to take action to help stop our impact on on climate change.”

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That growing consensus could be attributed to the country’s spate of extreme weather.

Eighty-four per cent of Canadians surveyed agreed the “extended heat warnings, drought and wildfires” this year were more cause for alarm than they were five years ago while 77 per cent said it made them more concerned about climate change.

This could also be because more Canadians are being impacted by climate change this year. Sixty-six per cent of Canadians surveyed said they were directly affected by extreme weather this year, and 81 per cent said they felt like their government should provide those who have been directly impacted with more support.

The sentiment was felt highest among respondents in British Columbia, who dealt with record-breaking heat waves and poor air quality throughout much of the summer. The province was followed closely by respondents who live in Quebec and are facing high temperatures and scorching conditions not seen since the year 1916.

“You look out the window, you walk outside, you’re seeing funny sun because you know there’s smoke in the air,” Simpson said. “That creates a sense of urgency.”

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Those surveyed in Ontario and Alberta were least likely to agree that it was more of a concern that it was five years ago, that it made them more concerned about climate change or that climate change directly impacted them.

“Alberta is always the least likely to to say that climate change is urgent. It’s not that they don’t believe it. It just means that maybe those economic considerations are a little bit more important for for Albertans,” Simpson said.

He added that Ontario was one of the hardest hit provinces throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which could shift their priorities.

“The economy may be more top of mind for Ontarians than it is elsewhere,” Simpson noted.

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He added that the conversation about climate change has shifted since the last election.

Only 27 per cent of Canadians surveyed agreed that climate change activists are “overreacting.” This is down five points from 2019. In contrast, there is a growing number of Canadians who believe that Canada contributes little to the world’s pollution at 34 per cent, up seven points from 2019.

While Canadians have made it clear that climate change needs to be addressed, there is also a growing number that believe it may be too late to reverse its effects.

Forty-nine per cent of Canadians surveyed — up eight points from 2019 — said they believed there was no way to “significantly reduce carbon emissions” within the next ten years, no matter how hard anyone tried.

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According to the poll, 74 per cent of Canadians surveyed agreed that “Canada has an obligation to lead on climate change globally.” This was highest among Bloc Quebecois and Liberal voters, and true for most respondents, regardless of party affiliate — with the exception of those who said they would vote People’s Party of Canada.

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“In a sense, the People’s Party is is a hodge-podge of maybe contrarians, maybe climate change deniers,” Simpson said.

“But, of course, they only represent about two per cent of the population at this point in time, so I don’t think they’ll have a big impact on the outcome of the election.”

A sample of n = 1,500 was interviewed online, via the Ipsos I-Say panel and non-panel sources, and respondents earn a nominal incentive for their participation. Quotas and weighting were employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The precision of Ipsos polls which include non-probability sampling is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ± 2.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadians been polled. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.

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