Meeting UK’s net zero goals set to be bolstered by the social sciences

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The UK’s journey to net zero by 2050 is set to be bolstered by the social sciences, following a major new investment from ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council).

The £6.25 million investment in the Advancing Capacity for Climate and Environment Social Science (ACCESS) leadership team seeks to ensure the UK leads the world in understanding how to achieve the human and institutional change needed to deliver net zero and other critical environmental, biodiversity and sustainability goals.

Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) Interim Executive Chair, Professor Alison Park, commented: “The UK government has set a national target of carbon neutrality by 2050, and an interim target to cut emissions by 78% by 2035.

“Tackling the climate and ecological crisis requires social science research insight, leadership and coordination across disciplines to catalyse the change required.

“ESRC is investing in this new world-leading social science and interdisciplinary team of experts to provide leadership for climate and environmental social science research at a crucial time.

“Their work will support the transition to a sustainable and biodiverse environment, and a net zero society. ESRC will work with them to develop further investments within this important thematic area.”

Headed by Professor Patrick Devine-Wright, the collaborative climate and environment social science programme will be led by the universities of Exeter and Surrey as part of a core team that includes Bath, Leeds and Sussex Universities and the Natural Environment Social Research Network (Natural Resources Wales, NatureScot, Natural England, Environment Agency and Forest Research).

Professor Devine-Wright commented on the announcement: “We are in a climate and ecological crisis, with profound implications for humanity and our planet.

“Urgent substantial action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is now required involving profound institutional and behavioural change, as well as socio-technical transitions in all sectors.

“This multi-faceted crisis demands the skills, insights and leadership of social scientists in relation to research, policy-making and action.

“We need to increase the accessibility, agility and use of social science, as well as further develop the skills required to support decision makers, and with this excellent investment and team the UK can lead the way.

“Critically, environmental solutions are often framed as technological or ecological fixes, underestimating the importance of social aspects.

“Championing environmental social science, in the context of current societal disruptions such as COVID, has the potential to open up new solutions that effectively and fairly address environmental problems and limit the negative impacts of climate and environmental change in the critical years ahead.”

Other ACCESS project partners also include other major UK and international universities, devolved governments, energy and water companies, local councils, science centres and the National Trust.

The ESRC investment starts in February 2022 and will run for five years.

More information about this announcement is available on the UK Research and Innovation website.