New £5m research centre highlights world-leading GW4 climate change expertise

June 12, 2019
Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh

Led by Cardiff University, the new £5m ESRC-funded Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations (CAST) is the first centre to put people at the heart of its research and aims to be a global hub for understanding the profound changes required to address climate change.

Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh, Director of CAST, explains how the Centre, along with the wealth of climate expertise across GW4, is ideally placed to identify transformative solutions to climate change.

GW4 held a one-day workshop, last month, on climate resilience for researchers across the network to share ideas and explore collaboration opportunities for addressing climate change. This meeting was extremely timely. There have been stark warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the UK Committee on Climate Change that rapid, society-wide decarbonisation is needed, and that we need to work harder if we are to avoid devastating climate change. And public support for climate action is at an all-time high – over 80% in the UK say they are concerned, and many are taking to the street to call governments to do more to tackle the issue. And with Welsh Government, Bristol University, Exeter University, several local authorities and others declaring a ‘climate emergency’, there are encouraging signs that decision-makers and leaders are taking the issue seriously, too.

Also, highly timely, was the launch of the new £5m ESRC-funded Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations (CAST). CAST’s hub is at GW4’s Cardiff University, and partners include Manchester, East Anglia, and York Universities and the charity Climate Outreach. The Centre is the first centre to place people at the heart of the fundamental transformation required to tackle climate change. The question at the heart of our work is: how can we as a society live differently – and better – in ways that meet the need for rapid and far-reaching emission reductions?

CAST is distinct in its approach by focusing on people as agents of change. People can act in different ways – individually and collectively. We want to understand how people can participate in transformation in their multiple roles as citizens, consumers, parents, employees, business leaders, policymakers. This means recognising that people can act both directly to reduce emissions – like driving less – but equally have the ability to shape wider structural change.

We will explore and test innovative approaches to bring about low-carbon, sustainable change at all levels of society, targeted at the challenging areas of mobility, food, thermal comfort, and consumption. CAST’s work will articulate ways for people to participate in transformation, and how targeting interventions to co-benefits and windows of opportunity may accelerate transformation.

Central to CAST’s work is engagement and co-production of knowledge. This includes engaging with citizens and stakeholders, though citizens panels, deliberative workshops and other participatory methods. But it is also about working across disciplines – not only across the social sciences, but also collaborating with natural scientists, engineers, and the arts, in order to develop creative and transformative solutions to climate change.

And, as we learnt at the GW4 workshop, responding to climate change really does require transformation – not reacting passively or in an incremental way. Our Centre, along with the wealth of climate expertise in GW4, is ideally placed to identify transformative solutions to climate change. The South West England and South East Wales Science and Innovation Audit found that our region is home to more climate expertise than any other area worldwide.

Fittingly, GW4 has identified ‘Climate Resilience’ as one of its key research priority areas based on our multidisciplinary expertise across the network. CAST represents just one component of this expertise and is keen to develop interdisciplinary collaboration across the GW4 network in order to respond transformatively to climate change.

 

Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh is an environmental psychologist, specialising in perceptions and behaviour in relation to climate change, energy and transport, based in the School of Psychology, Cardiff University. From May 2019, she took up the position of Director of the new ESRC-funded UK Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations (CAST). She regularly advises governmental and other organisations on low-carbon behaviour change and climate change communication. Her research projects have included studies of energy efficiency behaviours, waste reduction and carrier bag reuse, perceptions of smart technologies and electric vehicles, low-carbon lifestyles, and responses to climate change.