Understanding normative change to address the climate emergency

One of the main obstacles to the Paris Agreement succeeding is not technological, but the societal and political will.

The goal of this research is to understand how this societal and political will can be mobilised and to work with partners and stakeholders in the civil society and government to turn that understanding into actions and policies that would help to
achieve the net-zero greenhouse emissions target. Specifically, this research will transform our understanding of social change and how it can be accelerated in response to the climate crisis.

Research has shown that normative change (i.e. the change in social acceptability of behaviours, opinions, institutional processes etc.) is crucial for enabling large-scale social change; normative change creates a citizenry that demands and actively supports necessary political decisions. For that reason, we will focus on the process of normative change promoted by civil society actors such as Fridays for Future as the driver for social change. Within this broad aim, the fellowship is structured around three objectives: 

1) Understand unfolding normative change. We will focus on civil society actors as norm entrepreneurs and assess to what extent the new norms are taking root within wider society and political institutions, in contest with existing norms that are regarded as inadequate in response to climate emergency. 

2) Identify what is blocking normative and social change. Specifically, we will analyse the counter reactions to the normative change from, for example, populist politicians and opinion leaders, and assess the potential consequences of these counter reactions (e.g. disinformation or defamation) in terms of normative change adaptation within the wider society. 

3) Determine how normative and social change can be strengthened, amplified and accelerated through various interventions.

These objectives will be achieved with an ambitious, interdisciplinary research agenda that will bring together mixed methods such as natural language processing, machine learning and social network analysis of large volume social media data, statistical analysis of secondary data, qualitative interviews with policy makers, smartphone-based field
experiment on individual and community level, survey experiment and agent-based modelling.

The research will also integrate insights from disciplines such as sociology, social psychology, political science and computational social science.

Project website

https://cde.leeds.ac.uk/research/normative-change-climate-emergency/