Two thirds of UK public believe communities will be ‘left behind’ as we tackle the climate crisis

Date: 4 November 2021

As global leaders convene at the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, a new poll from The Young Foundation’s Institute for Community Studies finds that almost two thirds of UK residents (64%) are not confident the government will achieve its net zero 2050 target without ‘leaving behind’ any parts of the country or local communities. 

Nearly as many (59%) say they are not confident the UK will achieve the target at all.

“Public engagement is crucial if we are to make a just and successful transition to net zero – and this poll gives crucial insights to help policy-influencers understand the scale of the challenge ahead,” says Helen Goulden, CEO of The Young Foundation, the UK’s centre for community research and social innovation.

People in Wales, Scotland, and Yorkshire and the Humber had the lowest confidence in a ‘just transition’ – and four of the UK’s six largest industrial clusters, producing the greatest carbon emissions nationwide, are within these regions.

Responses to the survey overall reveal people’s confusion on how to reduce their household carbon footprint, as well as a perceived lack of accessible information. Of 2,100 16- to 75-year-olds surveyed, 42% say they are unsure how net zero will affect them, and 1 in 10 have never heard of it, despite the urgency of the challenge. Half say the cost of adapting their homes, transport and lifestyles to net zero is too high, and that not enough support is being made available.

There is some cause for optimism, however, as just 3% of people say they are not interested in lowering their carbon footprint, and around a quarter are optimistic that their jobs and prospects could improve if they are given the necessary support to upskill or change sectors. Interestingly, unemployed people and those working in ‘semi-skilled and unskilled’ occupations were the most optimistic about the prospects that transition could bring – with 33% believing that net zero will have a positive impact on their job security.

The Institute for Community Studies will be coordinating a project of local dialogue across the UK. Institute Head, Emily Morrison, explains: “Our aim is to develop a deep and meaningful understanding of the public’s questions about how net zero transition will affect their homes, jobs and family life, and how it will change local economies and neighbourhoods.” 

In another project, The Young Foundation is working with communities, research bodies, civic organisations and local government to celebrate partnerships combatting climate change. This new competition, the Climate Challenge Cup, will culminate in a showcase and award ceremony with a keynote speech from Conservative MP Danny Kruger on 10 November at the COP26 Climate Change Conference. Tickets to join the virtual event are available for free.  

“The competition celebrates new ideas powering our transition towards net zero,” Goulden explains. “This poll draws into sharp focus the need for partnerships, such as those created by the Climate Challenge Cup finalists, that bring people together as we continue on this vital journey”.

Key statistics: 

  • 42% of those polled are unsure how net zero will affect them 
  • 1 in 10 people in the UK have never heard of ‘net zero’ at all 
  • 59% are not confident the UK will achieve its net zero target by 2050… 
  • …and confidence is low in the six areas of the UK with the largest industrial centres by carbon emission (Grangemouth, Teesside, Merseyside, Humberside, South Wales, Southampton). See the interactive map here.
  • 64% of people are worried that some communities and certain parts of the country will be ‘left behind’ as we tackle the climate crisis 
  • Only 3% of people say they are not interested in lowering their carbon footprint…  
  • … the remainder point towards other barriers that prevent them adopting lower carbon lifestyles; 50% say the cost of adapting their homes, transport and lifestyles to reduce their carbon footprint is a major barrier.  
  • 37% feel they need more support and information to help them lower their carbon footprint 


Notes to Editors:  

For more information, please contact

Helen Goulden, CEO of The Young Foundation, is available for comment at COP26 on 10 November, or in London before 9 November. 

Climate Challenge Cup finalists are also available for interview, on request. 


An eight-question survey was included in Ipsos Mori’s online omnibus over a period of two 

Weeks (18 – 29 October 2021). The survey was completed by a nationally representative sample consisting of 2,100 adults aged 16 – 75 in the UK. Demographic data on gender, age, social grade, employment status, region, education, income, marital status and household size were collected, and are detailed in the attached document. 

 About the Climate Challenge Cup 

The Climate Challenge Cup is a new international competition to celebrate transformative civic research partnerships in the UK and US between research bodies, civic organisations and local communities to combat climate change. The Cup will culminate in an innovation showcase and award ceremony on 10 November at COP26, the United Nations 2021 Climate Change Conference. Tickets to join the virtual event are available for free.

About The Young Foundation 

The Young Foundation’s mission is to develop better connected and stronger communities across the UK. We research in and with communities to increase understanding of community life today. We offer different methods and approaches to involve communities and grow their capacity to own and lead change. We provide tools and resources to support innovation to tackle the issues people and communities care about. We’re a UKRI accredited research organisation, social investor and community practitioner.

About The Institute for Community Studies 

The Institute for Community Studies is a new kind of research institute, with people and communities at its heart. We give increasing weight to the stories, experience and evidence created in communities, supported through our national network of community researchers. We provoke direct engagement with policy-makers, business and those holding power to change the experience of communities today through working with those who care about taking action. The Institute for Community Studies is powered by The Young Foundation.