Social science research over the last 50 years has been used to understand both the human drivers of climate change and, more recently, the human behaviours that contribute to adaptation to and mitigation of the impacts of climate change.

Social science research on the drivers of climate change include research on, for example, the impact of economic growth on carbon emissions, urbanisation, consumption patterns for goods and services, demographic change, global inequality, and land use transformation. All of these areas of research must necessarily take into account cultural and social contexts and interactions among power and social stratification; questions addressed by theoretical perspectives from social science.  

‘‘The social science achievement of understanding and responding to climate change is rooted in human behaviour – the drivers of greenhouse gas emissions, the climate impacts on people and ecosystems and how we react to these, and the evaluation of political and economic solutions.

Economic and Social Research Council

Social science research also focuses on the study of human interventions aimed to reduce the sources or the impact of carbon or greenhouse gases, broadly referred to as mitigation research, and how the practices and behaviours of people are shaped by these interventions.

Additionally, social science research investigates how humans are adjusting their worlds to adapt to the impacts of climate change. This includes research on health, wellbeing and productivity. For example, how rural communities are adapting farming practices, the impact of floods and droughts on communities and their wellbeing, and the creation of resilient infrastructure in geographies of all types.

Finally, there must necessarily be research from social scientists about the role and impact of governance, policies (e.g. international environmental agreements) and finance in addressing the impacts of climate change. 

A recent strand of social science research, and an important conversation for COP26, is the sociological and behavioral transitions needed to ensure a ‘just transition’ to a post-carbon economy. This transition will be a major socio-economic disruption to most, if not all, of the human systems currently functioning in our world. To make a just transition there will need to be an “integrated approach that accounts for the environmental, economic, social, cultural and psychological dimensions of a transition to a post-carbon economy” to ensure the transition is green, sustainable and socially inclusive.

(See Abram et al. 2020. Just Transition: Pathways to Socially Inclusive DecarbonisationCOP26 Universities Network Briefing). 

While climate change is a global challenge, the effects are often felt most acutely at the local level. Social science research allows us to investigate the impact of these changes on people of all ages and amplify their voices in creating lasting solutions. 

Research from the University of Glasgow’s College of Social Sciences engages across the full breadth of these issues. We encourage you to take a look at the research, resources, and events that each of our schools produce related to addressing climate change during the COP26 conference and beyond.  

Adam Smith Business School
School of Education
School of Interdisciplinary Studies
School of Law
School of Social and Political Sciences