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Prompting action on climate change

Research has revealed a 'governance trap' hindering action on climate change.

Kangia - Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland
Kangia - Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland

Climate change is one of the most pressing environmental problems of the 21st century. According to projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in September 2013, without substantial action to cut global emissions the world is likely to see an average global surface warming of at least 2°C by 2100.

While science continues to reveal how serious the situation is, governments and citizens still fail to take decisive action. Research led by Professor Nick Pigeon aimed to help explain the reasons for this inertia.

There is no doubt that Professor Pidgeon’s work has had, and is still having, a direct impact.

The Rt. Hon John Gummer, Lord Deben Chairman of the UK Climate Change Committee

A governance trap

Working with a parliamentary inquiry team, our researchers identified a series of constraints on government action. In particular they found that despite good intentions and rhetoric, the UK government was failing to act decisively because it feared punishment at the ballot box if bold but unpopular long-term climate measures were adopted.

The research group's analysis of data acquired from the public revealed that high numbers of people in the UK were concerned about climate change and wanted action, however they 'pass the buck' to government because they believe that climate change is too difficult a problem for individuals to tackle alone.

This insight is explained as a 'governance trap' - the public leave action on climate change to government, but government fails to act because they believe the necessary long-term legislation would be unpopular with the electorate.

The Act leads to change

The subsequent work of the UK's Climate Change Committee, and in particular its initial recommendation that UK carbon emissions needed to be cut by 80% by the year 2050, has had a series of profound impacts across all of UK Government and the devolved administrations with regard to energy policy.

Finding a solution

It was concluded that as a result of this neither citizens nor governments would act decisively without a significant restructuring of the UK's institutional climate governance structures.

Professor Pidgeon co-authored a Parliamentary report that identified a solution: the creation of an independent expert committee to advise the government on long-term climate change targets and to evaluate progress.

The recommendation was enshrined in the 2008 Climate Change Act, which formalised the scope of the UK Climate Change Committee.

Meet our experts

Professor Nick Pidgeon

Professor Nick Pidgeon

Professor of Environmental Psychology, Director of the Understanding Risk Research Group

+44 (0)29 2087 4567