Understanding UK Perceptions of Climate Risk and Resilience (RESILRISK)

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Sch of Psychology


In this proposal we focus on the British public as future recipients of climate risk messages and adaptation information. RESIL-RISK will investigate how people currently conceptualise the relationship between climate risks, resilience and adaptation options/policy, as evidence for designing future climate change risk communications. Although many aspects of climate risk perception are now well understood, much of the past research has focused on developing an understanding of supporting more effective mitigation actions (in particular, reduced use of fossil fuel energy) and policy. There is far less systematic evidence on how ordinary citizens might view climate risk adaptation and resilience, and no coherent theoretical account of how these are related to climate risk perceptions. RESIL-RISK will build upon a programme of work conducted over the past decade from the team at Cardiff University. A nationally representative survey (n=3000) with experimental components to test communication strategies will be designed in close collaboration with our partner Climate Outreach, the UK Met Office, and an expert advisory group. As well as generating a large dataset on public understandings and public support of climate change adaptation strategies, a key academic aim is to improve our theoretical understanding of links between climate risk perceptions, resilience, adaptation options and communication strategies. Results are expected to be of high public policy interest both in the UK and internationally. Key findings will be disseminated to relevant policy communities through reports (top-line findings and recommendations for climate resilience communication), a major launch event, media channels and through Climate Outreach's existing network. The project will also contribute towards our understanding of how risk communication can be delivered as a climate service, with a particular focus upon supporting future UK Climate Risk Assessments.

Planned Impact

Who could potentially benefit from the proposed research over different timescales?
Key stakeholder beneficiaries throughout the UK include representatives from government climate policy (in particular UK Met Office and Defra, but also BEIS, DfT, Welsh and Scottish Governments), other advisory organisations (Committee on Climate Change), third sector organisations (Public Health Bodies, National Flood Forum, National Trust, Green Alliance) and industry (the Association of British Insurers, Water and Energy Utilities). We will work closely with UK Met Office throughout the RESIL-RISK project, as well as a group of key stakeholders including invited representatives from those mentioned above, who will be engaged through the stakeholder advisory group convened by Climate Outreach and through the dissemination event at the project's conclusion.

How might the potential beneficiaries benefit?
RESIL-RISK will assist evidence-based decision-making and developing strategies within policy, industry, third sectors and communities to improve the UKs resilience to climate change. It will also inform a critical evidence gap on public risk perceptions and communication, for the next UK Climate Risk Assessment due in 2022. Having an up-to-date and robust understanding of public attitudes around climate risks and adaptation options will be essential for other organisations and stakeholders across different sectors. For advocacy organisations (e.g. the National Trust), a clear picture of public attitudes is essential for effective campaigning around climate risks and resilience. For policy makers, both longer-term policy, decision-making and communication strategies can be informed by the proposed research. And for industry stakeholders such as insurers and actuaries, an accurate and in-depth gauge of public perceptions and understandings of risk is known to be crucial for fostering climate resilient communities, and through this for reducing the potential scale of climate losses that they may face in the future. Additionally, RESIL-RISK will help users (researchers and stakeholders) to engage effectively with publics about climate risk, with a clear potential to enhance: meaningful communication and engagement between public(s) and policy-makers/industry; public consent for investment in climate change resilience; informed public debate regarding current changes to infrastructure or services; and changes in behaviour leading to more sustainable and climate resilient lifestyles. In the long-term, it could contribute to improved quality of life and the economic vibrancy of the UK through the increased uptake of sustainable behaviours and co-benefits arising from adaptation and green growth.

Summary of Pathway to Impact:
We will convene an expert stakeholder advisory group to inform the survey design and facilitate dissemination of research findings. Towards the end of RESIL-RISK we will produce two reports a) a Top-line finding report, outlining the main research findings of the project and b) a report summarizing recommendations for climate resilience communication. The reports will be launched at a high profile launch event in January 2020, as well as through various press and electronic media, with targeted dissemination events to follow on from that beyond the lifetime of the funding period. Prior experience with high impact research projects and collaboration with Climate Outreach will enable us to use existing networks and realise these events.
Description The project's online survey was completed in October 2019, with a sample representative of the British public (n=1401). The survey results provide evidence for a societal shift among the British public towards a widely recognised urgency of addressing climate change and a general willingness to support steps to do so. By comparing the current survey results to previous data, we are able to point to how exactly public beliefs have changed. The current data were compared to that obtained by the team from our EPCC project (ESRC, 2016) and from the PREPARE study (Defra, 2013). The following was found.

Perceptions of climate change
Climate change was one of the two most frequent answers when asked about the UK's most important issues in the next 20 years (second only to Brexit). In 2016, climate change was only in 13th place of the most important national issues. At the same time, public worry about climate change has doubled since 2016.

Climate change beliefs
Climate change scepticism remains very low amongst the British public with the majority assuming a human contribution to climate change. The temporal distance to climate change has slowly decreased since 2010, with a majority of respondents now believing that we are already feeling the effect of climate change (64% compared to 34% in 2010). Despite this respondents did not expect great harm from these impacts for themselves, with climate change is still perceived as mainly harming people in developing countries (67%) over the UK as a whole or them and their family.

Psychological factors underlying climate change beliefs
There has been an increase of negative emotions such as guilt and fear compared to 2016 - with around a third of respondents feeling these when they think about climate change (13%-19% in 2016).

Risk perception of climate change impacts
In previous years, the British public seemed quite unaware of the climate change risks associated with hot weather and dry periods. However, the current survey results strongly suggest a shift in the risk perception of heatwaves and the risks associated with prolonged periods of hot weather since the PREPARE research was conducted for DEFRA in 2013. The current survey further sheds light on public perception of specific risks that emerge due to the impacts of climate change. As with the weather events, concern for specific risks has generally increased since 2013. At least 79% of the current sample reports to be very or fairly concerned about risk such as buildings not providing safe spaces during heat waves, new pests and diseases or homes being flooded.

Perceptions of link between climate change and specific events
For all extreme weather events a majority of respondents believed that climate change had a role to play in explaining these (61%-76%).

Priorities for adaptation
Wellbeing of the most vulnerable, health and emergency services were identified as being the top priority for protection. On the other hand, protection of historical sites and buildings as well as the UK economy received very little priority by survey respondents.

Support for climate action and policy
Very strong support (67%-82%) and little opposition (3%-8%) was identified for a range of adaptation policies such as regulations on buildings, building new water reservoirs and spending public money on flood defences. Policies that aim to mitigate climate change were generally more controversial than these adaptation policies.

Perception of actors and their motivation
The UK government was assigned the highest responsibility by respondents for both preparing for climate change (adaptation) and reducing the causes of climate change (mitigation).

Climate Communication Recommendations
The study has yielded 7 recommendations formulated by our partners Climate Outreach, regarding the significance for communicators regarding the following: rising current public concern, climate salience, psychological distance, risk framing, health and wellbeing implications, stimulating climate conversations, and moving from commitment to action.

RESiL RISK Update Survey Wave 2 (August 2020)
In the original research proposal we committed to a single nationally representative survey administered in 2019 (as documented above). In addition to the above, the research team felt at the end of the project that it was important to revisit the survey findings in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic and any possible impact upon key findings (e.g. were there reduced climate risk perceptions amongst the public?). Accordingly, with the agreement of NERC, and at no additional cost to UKRI, a repeat survey was designed to see whether those changes in beliefs seen over the period 2013-2019 had been sustained into 2020, and whether the core conclusions drawn for policy from the 2019 study have remained robust under the conditions brought about in the UK by the pandemic. We also included a small number of new items on the Wave 2 2020 survey to explore whether people believe that climate change should be a priority in the aftermath of Covid-19 (the so-called 'Green Recovery').

As a result we can compare results from identical items on the original RESiL RISK study (RESil RISK 2019) obtained from sample of 1,401 British residents collected in October 2019, with the additional sample of 1,129 respondents collected in August 2020 (RESiL RISK Update 2020). Its main aim was to understand how the global pandemic and its impacts might affect perceptions of climate change risks and support for adaptation strategies. At the time of submitting this ResearchFish entry (March 2021) we are still preparing a report for the UK Climate Resilience SPF website on these new 2020 findings. The broad conclusion is that beliefs about climate change risks and adaptation did not alter radically between 2019 and 2020 in the light of the pandemic - a finding of key theoretical and practical significance. We conclude that the current mental model of climate risks amongst the UK public built up over the past 10 years is very stable and robust.
Exploitation Route The research team are engaged (March 2020-July 2020) in a process to input key findings to the UKRI Climate Resilience research programme outcomes, as well as provide background data to the UK Climate Change Committee for incorporation into the UK's 3rd Climate Change Risk Assessment. That process was enhanced in the autumn of 2020 as we described the headline findings of the 2020 update to key policy makers.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Construction,Energy,Environment,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description At the time of writing this (8 March 2021) two major technical reports on project findings were launched at a meeting at the UK Royal Society on 3 March 2020. This meeting was attended by over 70 representatives from Government, Academia, Business and the Third Sector. Significant press coverage of the findings was also obtained (BBC, ITN, Reuters, New Scientist). The second wave (2020 update survey) is being analysed and findings from that have already been disseminated to e.g. the UKCCC, DEFRA, Welsh and Scottish Government climate teams and via the UKRI Climate Resilience programme networks. Further policy reports will be produced shortly.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Construction,Energy,Environment,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

Description Member of Steering Group DEFRA/Sciencewise Climate Adaptation Public Dialogue 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact March 2022. Professor Pidgeon joined the Steering Group of the DEFRA/Sciencewise Climate Adaptation Public Dialogue. This activity will take place during spring/summer 2022 with results expected to feed into the UK National Adaptation Plan (NAP)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Project results launch at the Royal Society and associated media coverage (national press, interviews etc) 3rd March 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Project results and a topline findings report were launched at the Royal Society on 3rd March in front of a national audience of over 70 (government, third sector, business, academia). Associated local, national and international media coverage (onlline press, interviews etc). A hugely successful meeting,
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020