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British public underestimate heating emissions, overestimate aviation – IMechE poll

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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.

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  • Only 15% of people cited home heating as a top source of emissions
  • People ranked aviation emissions higher than road transport emissions
  • 43% back the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles

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.

In the survey “Public Perceptions: Greenhouse Gas Emissions” only 15% of people mentioned heating systems in homes as one of the top three sources of emissions.

They ranked aviation (53%), livestock farming (34%) and the heating of commercial buildings (16%) 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% of UK greenhouse gases are a result of home heating using fossil fuels, a similar level to emissions from cars.

“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,” said Matt Rooney, Head of Policy at the Institution.

“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% of people listing it in the top three sources in the transport sector compared with 64% 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.

“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,” said Matt 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% of people backing the proposal and 27% 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.

Notes to Editors

  • Contact the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Press Office on 07713565683 or email media@imeche.org
  • The Institution of Mechanical Engineers was established in 1847 and has some of the world’s greatest engineers in its history books. It is one of the fastest growing professional engineering institutions. Headquartered in London, we have operations around the world and over 120,000 members in more than 140 countries working at the heart of the most important and dynamic industries such as the automotive, rail, aerospace, medical, power and construction industries. www.imeche.org 
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