The British public underestimate the contribution of heating their homes to UK greenhouse gas emissions, but overestimate the relative importance of emissions from aviation, according to a new poll from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (ImechE).

In the survey “Public Perceptions: Greenhouse Gas Emissions” only 15 per cent of people mentioned heating systems in homes as one of the top three sources of emissions. They ranked aviation (53 per cent), livestock farming (34 per cent) and the heating of commercial buildings (16 per cent) higher although in reality these sectors produce less emissions than homes.

Building heating is one of the main sources of emissions in the UK, with three quarters coming from homes using gas and oil-fired boilers. According to the Climate Change Committee, nearly 13 per cent of UK greenhouse gases are a result of home heating using fossil fuels – a similar level to emissions from cars.

Importance of aviation emissions overestimated

Matt Rooney, Head of Policy at the Institution said: “The decarbonisation of home heating is one of biggest challenges we face as a country in trying to meet our 2050 Net Zero emissions target.”

“Replacing the millions of gas boilers installed across the country with low carbon alternatives will be expensive and disruptive, and possibly very unpopular. The fact that the British public do not seem to think that they are a large source of our national greenhouse gas emissions could increase resistance to change.”

The poll found the public overestimated the importance of the contribution from aviation to the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, with 70 per cent of people listing it in the top three sources in the transport sector compared with 64 per cent mentioning road transport.

In reality, emissions from road transport are around three times higher than those from the aviation sector at its pre-pandemic peak.

Support for measures to reduce road transport emissions

“The overestimate of the contribution of aviation is likely to be because people are aware of the sharp increase in flying in recent years and of the high amounts of pollution emitted by individual flights compared to other modes of transport,” explained Rooney.

The survey found support, however, for Government plans to reduce road transport emissions through its ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030, with 43 per cent of people backing the proposal and 27 per cent opposed.

Younger people aged 18 to 24 years and those from the top income bracket were most likely to be in favour of the policy.

The survey was carried out by ICM with 2011 adults in Great Britain interviewed in December 2020.

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