Will The COVID-19 Pandemic Shift Canadian Views On Climate Change?

We were warned. Plenty of experts saw a pandemic coming – not the COVID-19 virus specifically, but the potential for a sudden contagion to devastate a globalized, tightly interconnected world.

Like other societies, Canada could have heeded these warnings better. Building larger stockpiles of personal protective equipment (PPE) and making supply chains more flexible and resilient would have cost money, but the price tag for inaction has turned out to be much higher.

It’s not hard to think of another major global threat we’ve been warned about many times: climate change. Some continue to balk at the costs of preventing the worst effects of climate change. Others insist that the costs of inaction are vastly greater.

Increasingly, both governments and businesses are showing a willingness to invest today in order to avoid future climate catastrophe. Governments are imposing carbon taxes, regulations, and emissions targets. Firms are trying to position themselves for success amid changes that go far beyond taxes and regulations. The threats facing businesses range from operational issues (such as supply chain disruptions from extreme weather) to investors’ growing distaste for large greenhouse gas emitters.

There’s plenty of uncertainty about how things will unfold, but broadly speaking leaders’ choices point to a belief that some combination of financial burden and reputational harm will eventually punish those who drag their feet.

It’s not hard to think of another major global threat we’ve been warned about many times: climate change.

Where does the broader Canadian public stand on climate change?

Is public opinion leading or following climate action by public- and private-sector leaders? How seriously were Canadians taking climate change prior to the pandemic, and how much concern did they report about associated economic threats?

Environics has been running the Canadian Environmental Barometer tracking study regularly since 2007, providing clients with ongoing insight into Canadian public opinion on environmental, natural resource, and energy issues. Findings from the Barometer suggest that Canadians take climate change seriously, but generally don’t have a firm grasp of the depth and range of its financial implications.


  • In October, the environment emerged as the top issue on the minds of Canadians for the first time since 2007, just edging out concern about the economy. (Climate will now almost certainly be supplanted by COVID-19 concerns.)
  • There is slim majority support for some upfront costs associated with efforts to fight climate change. Just over half of Canadians say they would accept a cost of $100 per household.
  • However, fewer than three in ten Canadians express strong concern about the implications of climate change, either for their personal finances (e.g., impact on their investments or household insurance costs) or for the broader economy in areas like pension funds and infrastructure.
Public attitudes in a post-pandemic world

Now that COVID-19 has given Canadians such a vivid example of the difference preparation can make when a crisis strikes, will public expectations about climate action shift? Will Canadians be more persuaded of the need for early investment in climate action, and demand more of governments and businesses?

The next edition of the Canadian Environmental Barometer, forthcoming in June 2020, will explore these questions. As governments and businesses work toward post-pandemic economic recovery, it will be vital to gauge plans and communications against an up-to-date understanding of public attitudes.

One overarching question hovers over nearly every dilemma leaders are facing today. Do Canadians believe the depth of the country’s current economic pain justifies setting climate concerns to one side temporarily, or do they see the near-shutdown of the economic status quo as a unique opportunity for deep, structural change? Do Canadians want a “green recovery” that tightly yokes stimulus funding to sustainable, low-carbon economic activities?

The Barometer’s next fielding, combined with long-term tracking data, will offer a valuable window onto how the current crisis is shaping Canadians’ thinking about the next big global threat.

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