The University of Cardiff in Wales will be home to the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations, a collaboration between four British universities and charity Climate Outreach to explore ways in which society can tackle climate change and achieve the far-reaching emissions cuts that are necessary.
The Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations (CAST) is a collaboration between Cardiff, Manchester, York, and East Anglia Universities, and the charity Climate Outreach. Announced this week, CAST will set up shop at Cardiff University which will act as the main hub for the £5 million research center.
The Centre will aim to establish a program of social science research that “places the role of people at the heart of the transformations needed to bring about a low-carbon, sustainable society.” The Centre will focus on four challenging areas of everyday life that it believes contribute “substantially” to climate change, but which have so far proven “stubbornly resistant to change,” including the consumption of goods and physical products; food and diet; travel; and heating/cooling in buildings.
“While there is now international momentum on action to tackle climate change, it is clear that critical targets, such as keeping global temperature rise to well within 2 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels, will be missed without fundamental transformations across all parts of society,” said Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh of Cardiff University, the new Centre’s Director. “At the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations we recognise that climate change is an emergency that requires action on a far greater scale than has been seen so far. We will address the fundamental question of how we can live differently and better, in ways that meet the need for these systemic, deep and rapid emission reductions.”
Researchers will work closely with members of the public to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard in determining how best to tackle climate change issues that would, by their very nature, require a shift in how we life.
“The public health success of reducing smoking rates shows that changing regulations and incentives, along with support from health practitioners, can lead to major shifts in culture and people’s behaviour,” Professor Whitmarsh added. “Research has shown that changes to people’s diets and food production could likewise achieve large-scale reductions in emissions as well as significant health benefits, particularly through reducing consumption of meat and dairy. But while there are signs of change in people’s choices around meat-eating, it will take sustained and intelligent approaches to move forwards in ways that are not dismissed by the wider public or seen as unrealistic by policy-makers.”
“So far, emission cuts have mostly been achieved by decarbonising electricity supply,” said Professor Andy Jordan, who will lead the University of East Anglia team involved in CAST. “But if we’re going to tackle demand, and particularly in high-impact but challenging areas like food, transport, heating, and material consumption, we can’t do this by technological change alone. We can only do this by transforming the way we live our lives, challenging norms, and reconfiguring organisations and cities.”
CAST will look to implement a strong practical focus and will experiment with approaches to bring about social change at all levels of society, applying behavior change techniques designed to break people’s habits. The research center will also work with local governments to develop and apply approaches designed to decrease emissions and better engage the public in working out ways to tackle climate change.
“This is a really important Centre to be funding because of its strong focus on developing and testing effective approaches to communicating climate change and its effects,” explained Professor Jennifer Rubin, executive chair of the Economic and Social Research Council. “Despite the urgent need to tackle climate change, researchers know that people rarely talk about it on a day-to-day basis – this means opportunities for meaningful dialogue and practical responses relevant to people’s everyday lives are missed.
“This Centre will work across all levels of society with multiple partners and ensure people are central to the changes needed which will mean greater fairness as well as identifying ways forward that can be realistically achieved.”