Fund social science to fight climate change, urge academics

Researchers from Sussex and Norway say funding into social science and climate change must increase

Not enough money is being spent on the social science research necessary to combat climate change, says a new study by academics from the University of Sussex and the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.

The study found that research into the impact of climate change, and adaptation to it, receives almost eight times more funding than research into how to prevent climate change through human behaviour.

They keep looking into how it really works, rather than trying to work out how to actually stop it – Indra Overland

The report’s co-authors argue that social science research – in subject areas such as anthropology, economics, international relations, human geography, development studies, political science and psychology – is essential for mitigating climate change.

They recommend more funding is made available for social science research on climate mitigation. Improved global research funding coordination and transparency, prioritisation around key questions within the social sciences, and an increase in the rigorousness of social science research are also called for.

“Most people probably think that because climate change is so severe, responsive research would be a core priority,” said Benjamin K Sovacool, professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex. “But the opposite is true. And, oddly, the smallest part of the funding goes into solving the most pressing issues.”

The report’s summary

The study analysed US $1.3trillion of research funding around the world from 1950 to 2021. According to its estimates:

  • Less than 4.59% of funding was spent on climate-related research from 1990 to 2018
  • Only 0.12% was spent on how to change societies to mitigate climate change
  • The natural and technical sciences received 770% more funding than the social sciences for research on climate change
  • The countries that spent the most on social science climate research in absolute terms were the UK, the USA, and Germany. However, these countries spent between 500% and 1200% more on climate research in the natural and technical sciences

According to Indra Overland, who heads the Centre for Energy Research at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs: “The one-sided emphasis on the natural sciences leaves one wondering whether funding for climate research is managed by climate sceptics.

“It’s as if they don’t quite believe in climate change, so they keep looking into how it really works, rather than trying to work out how to actually stop it.”

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