Floods a ‘watershed moment’ for UK’s climate change attitudes

Written by Lisa Stanley Mann on 20th April 2016

Huw Davies, head of personal banking at Triodos Bank, on what the recent winter floods and growing realities of climate climate have to do with our money.

‘Three months ago, Britain was hit by some of the worst floods in a generation, costing the economy an estimated £5 billion, and leaving the livelihoods of thousands of families across the country in tatters. Sadly, these once extraordinary events now seem like increasingly regular occurrences, and scientists agree that a changing climate is partly – at the very least – to blame.

516345 Huw Davies, head of personal banking at Triodos Bank.

‘But while there has been a consensus amongst the scientific community on the need to tackle climate change for quite some time, the floods that battered Britain last winter seem to have prompted a notable sea-change in the nation’s attitude towards the issue: in recent research we carried out to gauge changes in consumer opinion, we found 55% of Britons said events such as the floods in 2015 had changed their attitude to sustainability, while 75% said that more action is needed on climate change.

‘Indeed, this research also found that more than a third (37 per cent) of people now recognise climate change as an immediate danger to themselves and their families. Of course, this is not solely a product of the floods – the growing tide of information, news scandals, and global attention around the issue is clearly starting to have a tangible effect. For example, the VW emissions scandal that dominated headlines for weeks in the latter part of 2015 exemplified the growing importance of corporate responsibility and sound ethical policies in business; this was followed, not long after, by the Paris Climate Summit, which saw 196 countries provisionally agree to a legally binding climate deal to reduce global carbon emissions, limit rising global temperature levels and provide developing countries with $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020.

‘Events such as these are clearly causing climate change to seep into the public consciousness like never before, something reflected in the fact that 55 per cent of UK adults admitted they have changed their attitude towards sustainability. But this wave of public feeling now needs to be mirrored by big business and government alike.

‘For instance, the most widely-accepted cause of climate change is the emission of greenhouse gasses, and recently the Department of Energy and Climate Change released figures which revealed that UK emissions levels dropped by 3.3 percent in 2015. While any reduction is positive, that figure was closer to eight per cent the year before. There are also concerns that a slew of government policies announced in 2015 – such as the end of renewable energy subsidies – will threaten to derail green initiatives and endanger future steps needed to reduce emissions further.

‘So how can British consumers make their changing attitudes count? To start with, they can continue to pressurise businesses to adopt green policies. They can consider what they purchase, and also consider where they save and invest their money. By investing and saving with ethical financial institutions which are transparent about how and for what investors funds’ are used, the public can have a huge amount of influence.

People clearly want transparency and positive impact – our research shows that 73 per cent of consumers believe banks should be more open about how they use investors’ and savers’ funds. But the research also reveals a gap in knowledge between people wanting change and understanding how they can effect it. Simply by making conscious choices about how we use our money – the products we purchase, the companies we buy from and the banks we entrust it to – can make a real difference to the planet.’

Huw Davies is head of personal banking at Triodos Bank.