Key Takeaways: What Do Canadians Really Think About Climate Change in 2024?

Kelowna, BC — Smoke from the McDougall Creek wildfire fills the air and nearly blocks out the sun as people take in the view of Okanagan Lake from Tugboat Beach, in Kelowna, British Columbia, Aug. 18, 2023. The world is off track in its efforts to curb global warming, a new international report calculated on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023. (Photo by Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

Kelowna, BC — Smoke from the McDougall Creek wildfire fills the air and nearly blocks out the sun as people take in the view of Okanagan Lake from Tugboat Beach, in Kelowna, British Columbia, Aug. 18, 2023. The world is off track in its efforts to curb global warming, a new international report calculated on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023. (Photo by Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

In March 2024, Re.Climate hosted an information-packed webinar on Re.Climate’s annual report, “What Do Canadians Really Think About Climate Change?”, which provided an analysis of 91 surveys published in 2023 and early 2024. Leading climate change communications experts Chris Hatch, Dr. Ghadah Alrasheed, Dr. Louise Comeau, and Dr. Hugo Séguin discussed key trends and recommendations for communicating climate and energy in Canada today.

Missed the event?  Watch the webinar recording and follow along with the presentation slide deck.  Read the full report here.

Making Sense of What Canadians Think

Making sense of polling trends flow chart. Social context contributes to distracted attention, unstable beliefs and declining policy support. Gaps in information and counter campaigning also lead to unstable beliefs.

Affordability and housing concerns direct attention from climate change (social context, distracted attention). Weak understanding of climate change, its immediate risks (psychological gaps), combined with misinformation, disinformation and greenwashing (counter campaigning) appear to be destabilizing policy support.

Reflecting on the findings from the report, the panelists highlighted a sobering reality about where Canadians currently stand on climate change and energy. A number of climate change beliefs and support for climate policy are declining. Panelists noted a number of factors driving these changes, including psychological gaps, distracted attention due to new concerns like cost of living and housing accessibility, which collectively create unstable support for climate action:

Persistent Gaps
Psychological gaps contribute to unstable climate change beliefs and a growing disconnect between concern about climate change and support for policies:

  • Perception Gap: A number of studies indicate the potential for social norms to drive climate actions. Canadians perceive that the level of climate concern is lower in others than their own, which results in lower social expectations to act in ways conducive to climate protection. Closing the perception gap is essential to increasing social norms so that acting in ways that protect the climate is just what we all do. Talking to friends and family about climate change is one way to start closing the social norms gap.

  • Distance Gap: Most Canadians also still perceive climate change as a distant threat in both time and place, despite the increasing understanding of the link between climate change and extreme events. These events, however, are not directly affecting large portions of the Canadian population. Canadians who have not directly experienced an extreme event continue to view climate change as a risk that will affect future generations rather than themselves or their families, or that it is a problem that will impact other people in other countries.

  • Action Gap: There is much more support for acting on climate change in principle than there is for any specific measure. Most Canadians remain focused on low-impact and low-cost (in time and effort) behaviours like recycling and greener consumption. And support has decreased for several key policies in recent months.

Competing Priorities
Canadians are feeling the financial pinch, and as a result, climate change has dropped in priority, compared to other concerns like inflation and affordability. The correlation between affordability and the level of concern about climate change is reflected in the demographic data the researchers have reviewed—polls show that people aged 35 to 55 are less supportive of investing in renewable energy and more willing to support government action on inflation over climate actions. Their hesitancy to support climate action is because they are more likely to feel the pinch, as they are the ones paying the bills, mortgages, and childcare expenses.

Denial of Fundamental Climate Facts
The most concerning trend is the decline in Canadians’ belief that climate change is real and human-caused. This is despite polls from previous years indicating a growing (and promising) public understanding of climate change and human involvement. 

Feelings of Powerlessness and Blame-Shifting
There is a notable shift in Quebeckers’ beliefs regarding their ability to take action, along with increasing  eco-anxiety. While some anxiety can motivate individuals to take action, too much of it without a means to address it—choices, taking action or reducing risk—can lead to inaction. If humans cannot control their anxiety, they tend to control how they interpret information instead.

Solution Misinformation
The panelists highlighted how trust in the effectiveness and practicality of a number of climate policies and solutions has decreased. This is partly because of the effect of misinformation and greenwashing campaigns, which aim to undermine these climate solutions or frame other technologies such as carbon capture as effective. The opinion split around climate solutions and policies extended beyond carbon pricing to others, such as heat pumps, clean electricity regulations, the 2050 net-zero target, and the 2035 EV mandate. Many perceive the carbon tax is a proxy for all climate policy. Rising solutions skepticism is further weakening support for climate policy. For example, while three-quarters of Canadians agree that polluters should pay for their pollution, fewer than half support the carbon tax.

Key Recommendations from the Panel Discussion

  • Close the public literacy gap
    There’s an urgent need to build literacy about climate change itself (real, human-caused, fossil fuel burning, it’s a risk today), climate change impacts (physical, economic, social and mental effects), and climate solutions to counter misinformation/disinformation campaigns and narratives. We need to increase Canadians’ understanding of Canada’s responsibility for climate change (e.g., high per capita emitter, top ten emitter). Storytelling is a great tool for this—personal, vivid, compelling stories with climate change imagery showing impacts on people is key.

  • Draw the big picture
    Tell people and decision-makers that Canadians can take on challenging tasks. Polls reveal that Canadians are open to spending money on climate action and focus efforts on mitigating climate change. However, while there is conceptual support for spending, this does not necessarily translate to support for regulations and policies. Canadians need to understand the steps they need to take (the solutions), why they’re taking these steps (rationale), and the role of public and private institutions in this path (so they see it is fair).

  • Urge provincial governments to prioritize climate action
    In provinces like Quebec and BC, where climate is a priority for the provincial government, there’s less polarization and debate about climate solutions. When provincial governments prioritize addressing climate change, climate solutions become less debatable. The report findings indicate greater support for carbon tax in provinces where the policy is introduced by the provincial government, rather than the federal government.

  • Ask national media to fulfill their role, and support them in doing so
    Re.Climate research previously revealed similar gaps on both Canadian media coverage and Canadian public attitudes. These include a decline in prioritization of climate issues, confusion over solutions, and a lack of understanding/mention of the causes of climate change. There is a need for national media to educate the public on climate causes and help paint a picture of what a united Canada taking climate action looks like.

  • Use the “Polluters Should Pay” frame
    Canadians strongly believe polluters should be held accountable. Communication efforts should focus on ensuring the right balance between holding industry and consumers accountable. Due to the attention being paid to the carbon tax, current perceptions are that consumers are being asked to do more than their fair share, and to do things they don’t perceive they can undertake. While solution literacy is important, it is also time more attention was paid to holding industry accountable to creating a stronger sense of “we” and fairness.

  • Nurture more messengers
    We should focus on equipping more individuals to speak about climate change, especially within the scientific community, health professionals and the trades (e.g., heat pump installers, efficiency auditors, solar installers, home builders). With growing trust in friends and family members, and declining trust in government and institutions, engaging in conversations with friends and family about climate change is critical and can help strengthen social norms. So, everyone can be a messenger in their dinner table conversations.

  • Coordinate efforts among people and organizations working on climate
    Dr. Louise Comeau concluded her remarks with a powerful statement calling on the webinar participants to unite: “Imagine the power of all of those people, all of those groups coordinating and collaborating to focus on these issues in the short term, all focused on the closing of the psychological gaps, all focused on countering misinformation, all with the idea in mind that our job is to stabilize beliefs, to increase urgency, a sense of fairness, polluter pay, and to help people build their confidence, their efficacy that we are succeeding.”

A Final Note

In the coming weeks, Re.Climate will produce additional insight for communicators on framing, messaging, and public education. More recommendations will result from ongoing research projects, including:

  • Segmentation research and nationwide focus groups facilitated by Re.Climate testing climate communication, messaging and messengers in Canada.

  • Information integrity research that assesses climate conversations for misleading and deceptive content, including misinformation and greenwashing, but also public engagement with this content and its implications for distrust and delay of climate action. 

List of Resources as Recommended and Suggested by Panelists

Further Research on Climate Attitudes

Resources on Effective Messaging

Resources on Climate Change and the Media

we’d love to hear from you!

We’re always working to make our programming better. Share your feedback by completing our quick survey. Thank you!