Science & Environment

Extreme flooding events influence UK climate views

Flooding on the Somerset Levels (Getty Images) Image copyright PA
Image caption People's experience of flooding "significantly contributed to climate change beliefs", the study reported

Flooding, more than heat-related weather events, influence UK residents' perception of the risks associated with climate change, a survey has shown.

Researchers found that British people perceived heatwaves had become less common in their lifetimes, while flooding had become more common.

They said the results suggested that warnings about future impacts may not be heeded if they only focused on heat.

The findings have been published in the journal Risk Analysis.

"The strength of the relationship between the perceived change in the frequency of flooding and heavy rainfall and concern about climate change was certainly the most striking finding of the study," explained co-author Andrea Taylor from the University of Leeds.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Perceptions are that reservoir-draining droughts are becoming less common

Stormy expectations

The team said previous research of public perception in other nations suggested that real and perceived periods of high temperatures had strengthened people's climate change beliefs.

They added that such findings raised questions about the perceptions of people living in the world's temperate regions, such as the UK.

"Relatively little is known about whether public concern about climate change may also be associated with perceived changes in other weather-related events, such as precipitation or flooding," they observed.

In order to help answer this, the team contributed questions to a survey conducted by pollsters Ipsos/Mori.

The survey, which questioned a representative sample of the UK population, was commissioned by the Prepare Programme, research sponsored by Defra that supports the UK government in developing its climate adaptation policy.

Dr Taylor told BBC News: "Within the survey, we asked for questions to be added regarding perceived changes in the weather because previous research, based in the US, examined the relationship between hot weather and beliefs about climate change.

"We thought this was important because there are areas of the globe that has much more temperate and moderate climates.

"We felt it was important to look at the relationship between other types of weather events and the beliefs about climate change because, of course, heat-related impacts are not the only impact projected to affect people."

Lost message

"Our findings suggest that if heat-related events and heat-related impacts are the primary focus of communications then they may illicit less concern than might be the case if other potential impacts were also included in the communications," said Dr Taylor.

"However, it is important to point out that because heat-related impacts are projected for many temperate areas in the world, there may be some concern also about people's preparedness to adapt to any increase in the frequency of these heat-related events."

Data from more than 1,840 respondents revealed that heatwaves and hot summers were perceived to be less common, while flooding, coastal erosion and mild winters were perceived to have become more common.

The survey was conducted in late January and early February 2013, shortly after a period of cold weather.

The team said: "In the year preceding the data collection, the country experienced several flooding events, with some of the most highly publicised occurring in November 2012.

"The findings highlight the importance of salient weather-related events and experiences in the formation of beliefs about climate change."

Dr Taylor added that colleagues at the University of Leeds were currently working on follow-up studies to assess whether public perception was shaped by recent events and experiences or whether its beliefs are long lasting.

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