Falmer, Sussex, England—It’s time to increase funding for the prevention of climate change, rather than research into adapting to it, according to research from the University of Sussex and the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.
The study notes: “One of the most urgent unsolved puzzles is how to get people to act on what they know, that is to say, how to alter society to mitigate climate change… Human habits are difficult to change; doing so requires altering attitudes, norms, incentives, ethics, and politics at the personal, community, and national levels. Therefore, some of the key climate-change puzzles are in the realm of the social sciences broadly defined: anthropology, economics, education, international relations, human geography, development studies, legal studies, media studies, political science, psychology, and sociology. Yet, as we find here, these are precisely the fields that receive least funding for climate research.”
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Researchers from the two institutions analyzed USD 1.3 trillion of research funding around the world, according to a press release. Between 1990 and 2018, less than 4.59% of that funding was spent on climate-related research. The majority of the funding goes to research on the impact of climate change and adaptation to it, rather than to prevention: USD 40 billion went to natural and technical sciences, while only USD 4.6 billion went to the social sciences and humanities—and even that doesn’t tell the whole story. The study notes that much of that research was on adaptation to climate change or the effects of past climate change on ancient civilizations. Further analysis found that USD 393 million of funding went to mitigation of climate change—0.12% of all research funding.
The researchers conclude: “The funding of climate research appears to be based on the assumption that if natural scientists work out the causes, impacts, and technological remedies of climate change, then politicians, officials, and citizens will spontaneously change their behavior to tackle the problem. The past decades have shown that this assumption does not hold.”
Benjamin K Sovacool, Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Sussex, said in the press release: “Most people probably think that because climate change is so severe, responsive research would be a core priority. But the opposite is true. And, oddly, the smallest part of the funding goes into solving the most pressing issues.”
Indra Overland, who heads the Centre for Energy Research at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, added: “The one-sided emphasis on the natural sciences leaves one wondering whether funding for climate research is managed by climate skeptics. It’s as if they don’t quite believe in climate change, so they keep looking into out how it really works, rather than trying to work out how to actually stop it.”
The authors recommend keeping in mind that climate change is a global challenge: it requires large amounts of funding globally, improved global coordination and oversight of that funding, and rigorous social science research with large sample sizes that can be better generalized to a global population.