Our future with climate change

Candice Howarth

Dr Candice Howarth is a Senior Research Fellow in our Global Sustainability Institute (GSI). She leads the Climate Action and Cultural Systems theme, where her research concentrates on climate communication, action and behaviour change, and the impacts of climate scepticism.

There is broad consensus that ‘something’ needs to happen, but refining that ‘something’ into an agreement between some 190 plus parties currently involved – ahead of the upcoming Conference of the Parties on climate change (COP) in Paris in 2015 – is taking a team of expert negotiators some time. Can it be achieved? I believe so, but much of its success will rely on clear communication, engagement and robust negotiation between stakeholders at every level of society.

Through co-operation between business, NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations), DECC (the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change), academics and civil society organisations, the UK’s position on climate change and its future targets for energy efficiency and renewable solutions are being finalised. These will be shared through a variety of engagement activities between the co-operating parties. All of these groups are participating in greater lobbying efforts, both within their own networks and memberships and more broadly. The goal is to reach an agreement before the COP in 2015. Is an international agreement or a political approach the solution to managing the impact of climate change? Not solely, but it’s certainly part of the bigger picture and this bigger picture is part of the challenge.

It can be difficult for individuals to see how they can have an impact on the outcomes of climate change or how an international agreement has any real-world relevance. Accordingly, it’s time to re-examine how we discuss climate change, not just in terms of the issues and contributing complexities, but of our response as well. We need to link dialogue back to the domestic and individual contexts. We must clearly articulate to regular people, that is those not directly involved in the process, what these international negotiations mean to them and how the outcomes might affect their lives. Making the bigger picture relevant to the individual is key to bringing about action and behavioural change. This is a huge barrier across many communities – many of which don’t necessarily understand the impacts their behaviour can have on climate change.

There’s also a blame mentality to overcome. People often say: ‘Why should we do something when China’s not doing anything? It’s building a new coal power plant every fortnight.’ Whether accurate or not, we should also look at the other side of the coin; the reason for a growing number of power plants is to support a higher demand for product manufacture from countries including the UK. In fact, China, for example, is quite focused on acting on the climate change agenda, particularly when it comes to local air pollution.

The conversation needs to move away from this kind of thinking towards highlighting not only what we can do as individuals, but also the positive action already being undertaken on a broader international scale. There’s much to be proud of. Framing messages in a positive way – that have individual relevance – will make a lasting impact on addressing and managing the effects of climate change.

Candice was on secondment to the UK Government. Working in the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s (DECC) International Climate Change Stakeholder Engagement team, she led on NGO and Civil Society engagement.

Research Matters

What inspired you?

I’m incredibly passionate about climate change. I want to contribute to implementing the right solution that works for people.

Any surprises?

My secondment [to the Department of Energy and Climate Change] really opened my eyes to the political and negotiation landscapes around international climate change. I’m a lot more sympathetic to the process now. As a result, my subsequent work has been considerably more productive and effective, as I can see it does make a difference, but perhaps not in ways that are most obvious from outside the process.

Why does this research matter?

Climate change underpins everything we depend on and do. The reality is that the climate is changing; the world we live in now is different from how it was when we were children. People talk about a future with climate change and I would say that this future is already here. This doesn’t mean we have to completely change our lifestyles in response. While a common perceived barrier to behaviour change is ‘the

Government isn’t doing anything about it’, I encourage people to appreciate what is happening. Reaching an agreement in 2015 is not the end of the line. In fact, it’s the beginning of a new process to implement action; one in which we can all play a part.

Research funding

Department of Energy and Climate Change

Amount of funding awarded: £60,000

Duration of the funding: 12 months

Reading matters

Practitioner’s work and evidence in IPCC reports.

Nature Climate Change, 4

Viner, D & Howarth, C (2014)