Published: 16 November 2015

Stress personal benefits of tackling climate change to alter behaviour

How do you convince people that climate change is real? And, once convinced, how do you motivate them to take action on the issue; to put pressure on governments and to make changes in their personal lives?

Dr Paul Bain and Dr Yanjun Guan, of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, and fellow researchers from 24 countries argue that instead of persuading people to look at the wider picture of tackling climate change to benefit generations to come, we need to hone in on the immediate advantages of taking action: how will making positive changes benefit me, my family and my community now?

In the paper ‘Co-benefits of addressing climate change can motive action around the world, the international research team claims that the strategy used so far of presenting the science and consequences of climate change may well have been effective at first, but, in recent years it has fallen on deaf ears.

However, new approaches are emerging that could sidestep these hurdles – highlighting the co-benefits for society from acting on climate change. These benefits include reducing pollution, supporting economic development through green industries, promoting healthier lifestyles through walking and cycling, and helping build a more caring, moral community.

For this study, the research team set out to identify whether these co-benefits of addressing climate change could motivate pro-environmental behaviour around the world, even by those unconvinced climate change is real.

In the study, 6,196 participants from 24 countries were questioned about their beliefs on the reality and importance of climate change. They were asked to consider what their nation would be like if future action had successfully tackled the issue. They then considered the potential co-benefits for their society in these scenarios, such as economic development and scientific progress, reducing pollution and disease, and creating a more caring society.

The participants indicated whether they thought these co-benefits would improve or worsen in their society, then the research team examined how these co-benefits correlated to three measures of motivations to act on climate change. These measures were public and political action, personal domestic action, and financial behaviour.

The study showed that two co-benefits types in particular – development (economic and scientific advancement) and benevolence (a more caring community,  were the biggest attraction for motivating public, private and financial action, while surprisingly, reducing pollution and disease was the weakest motivator. Unconvinced participants showed similar effects to those convinced, and were especially motivated by development co-benefits.

According to the research team, these findings give hope for a critical time, contrasting with pessimistic implications of previous research that suggest taking action is prevented by ideology, or relies on personal experience of climate change. The research team believes that communicating these co-benefits could motivate action on climate change where traditional approaches have stalled. Crucially, we need to move beyond communication of these co-benefits to actually implementing them in policy design and decision-making the world over.

Read the full paper.

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