Nearly half of Kiwi students believe climate change is an ‘urgent problem’

14 March 2019
Rachel Cunliffe
Rachel Cunliffe, CensusAtSchool co-director

Nearly half of Kiwi students taking part in a nationwide in-school census believe that climate change “is an urgent problem that needs to be managed now”.

Students aged from 9 to 18 (Year 5 to Year 13) taking part in the statistics education project CensusAtSchool, or TataurangaKiTeKura in te reo Māori, were asked to choose an option that best described their opinion on climate change.

A total of 44% of the students selected the statement that climate change was “an urgent problem that needs to be managed now".

A total of 17% of all participants chose the statement that climate change was “"a problem that needs to be managed in the future”.

Just 10% believed that climate change was “not a problem”, and 29% either didn’t know or didn’t have an opinion.

High-school students felt the most acute sense of urgency, with 55% of year 9-13 students agreeing that climate change was “an urgent problem that needs to be managed now”.

The findings, from the first 4,900 students to take part in CensusAtSchool, which is run by the Department of Statistics, come as young people prepare for an international student ‘strike’ to push for increased government action on climate change.

Thousands of New Zealand students will leave school on Friday March 15 to join a day of protest called Student Strike for Climate Action, calling on politicians to act quickly to limit global warming. In New Zealand, more than 25 rallies are due to take place in the four main centres and smaller towns.

CensusAtSchool co-director Rachel Cunliffe, a former lecturer in the Department of Statistics, says that every edition of the schools’ census asks topical questions affecting young people. The climate-change question in this census was added at the request of teachers last year – well before the current protest action was organised.

“Teachers told us that climate change was an issue for students and they asked for a question so students could see real, relevant data on the issue,” Rachel Cunliffe said. “At present, the only way to get hard data about the opinions and beliefs of New Zealand’s young people is through CensusAtSchool, so we added the question about climate change so young people themselves and the public can see exactly how their generation feels.”

The CensusAtSchool results reflect a nationwide poll of adults aged 18 and over carried out last March by Horizon Research. It found that 64% of adults nationwide believed climate change was a problem, 29% of them saying it was urgent.

CensusAtSchool is a biennial statistics project that shows students how data-science skills reveal the unseen and can be used to make informed decisions about their own lives.

Supervised by teachers, students from Year 5 to Year 13 fill in a digital questionnaire in English or Māori about their activities and opinions, with data returned to teachers for classroom analysis. The figures on climate change come from the first 3,400 students to take part; up to 30,000 students are expected to have their say before the census closes on July 5 this year.

CensusAtSchool started in New Zealand in 2003, and is run by the University of Auckland’s Department of Statistics with support from Stats NZ and the Ministry of Education. It is part of an international effort to boost statistical capability among young people and is carried out in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Japan, and South Africa. The countries share some questions so comparisons can be made.


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