Broadening views: social sciences addresses climate change issues

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An interdisciplinary team of scientists, social scientists and economists are working together to advance understanding and support the development of better policies on climate change.
Professor Andy Gouldson and colleagues at the University of Leeds and the London School of Economics are working together in the Economic and Social Research Council funded Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy.
The Centre combines expertise from science, social science and economics to address key challenges in climate change. Different combinations of disciplines are brought together to address different problems. For example, climate models and economic models are brought together to understand key issues about uncertainty in predictions of climate change, whereas environmental science and social sciences such as geography are combined to understand the scope for adaptation to climate change in different contexts. Economics and social sciences relating to business, management and policy have also come together to explore the scope for a transition to a low carbon economy.
Professor Gouldson explains: “Problem oriented research often needs to draw on insights from a range of different areas. Each discipline has something useful to say and a critical contribution to make, but by combining them in inter-disciplinary research we are able to address problems such as climate change more effectively and more holistically”.
One of the projects within the programme, entitled Governments, markets and climate change mitigation, is considering the roles that public, private and civic actors can play in driving transitions to a low-carbon economy. Research within this project, conducted by Andy Gouldson with colleagues Tim Foxon and Nick Jagger, has focused on the issue of low carbon skills, as without sufficient provision of these the response to climate change will be slower, more expensive and will generate fewer jobs. Their findings show that neither governments nor markets are effectively providing the skills that are required for the transition, but that innovative forms of governance based on new roles for different actors could have a major impact.
The impact of this work is a direct influence on government policies. It has fed directly into the OECD’s work on green skills, and within the UK it feeds into the Department of Energy and Climate Change in various ways, including through Andy Gouldson’s contribution to DECC’s expert advisory panel on the social sciences.
Without taking a broad view, which includes insights from different forms of economics and from different social sciences, changes in policy – and therefore individual and collective behaviours – cannot be so readily affected, argues Professor Gouldson.
“We need to understand all the different factors affecting policy making and wider decisions around the climate change agenda. And to do this we can’t take a purely economic view because there are many other things exerting a crucial influence – so it’s only sensible that social sciences play a major role in research in this area,” he says.]]>