UK gets new £5 million climate change research centre

Posted on 27 March 2019

A new £5 million centre, involving researchers from the University of York, will explore how we can live differently in order to tackle climate change.

The Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations (CAST) will work closely with the public, industry and government to establish how we can alter our lifestyles in order to achieve urgently-needed cuts in carbon emissions.

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), CAST is a collaboration between the universities of York, Cardiff, Manchester and East Anglia and the charity Climate Outreach.

Sustainable society

Researchers at the Centre will investigate the role that people and organisations – including local communities, city councils and national governments - can play in bringing about the transformations needed to produce a low-carbon, sustainable society.

Professor Hilary Graham from the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York said: “Public concern about climate change is growing – and rightly so. CAST will turn the spotlight on how to mobilise action at every level of society to address the biggest challenge of the 21st century.”

The Centre will focus on four challenging areas of everyday life that contribute substantially to climate change, but which have proven stubbornly resistant to change. These include consumption of goods and physical products; food and diet; travel; and heating/cooling in buildings.

Researchers at CAST will establish a citizen’s assembly and a young people’s panel to ensure key public concerns are a central part of the Centre’s work.

Fundamental transformations

The Centre also aims to highlight how reducing emissions would have parallel benefits on people’s lives. For example, moving away from a reliance on cars would improve health through better air quality.

As well as looking to the future, the Centre sets out to learn lessons from past and ongoing changes that have occurred across societies.

Director of CAST, Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh from Cardiff University, said: “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.

“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.”

Community level

The Centre will also have a strong practical focus, and will experiment with approaches to bringing about social change at all levels of society, applying behaviour change techniques designed to break people’s habits and encourage more active travel.

Working with charities, the team will trial practical interventions at the community level to reduce household emissions, and with industry partners to shape sustainable workplace practices.

Professor Jennifer Rubin, Executive Chair of the Economic and Social Research Council, said: “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.”