Cardiff University has been selected as the main hub for a £5 million research centre to explore how we can live differently to achieve the rapid and far-reaching emissions cuts required to address climate change.

A collaboration between Cardiff, Manchester, York and East Anglia Universities, and charity Climate Outreach, the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations (CAST) will work closely with industry, local/national governments, and charities to tackle climate change. It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

The new Centre’s Director, Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh of Cardiff University, said: "While there is now international momentum on action to tackle climate change, it is clear that critical targets, such as keeping global temperature rise to well within two degrees celsius relative to pre-industrial levels, will be missed without fundamental transformations across all parts of society.

"At the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations we recognise that climate change is an emergency that requires action on a far greater scale than has been seen so far. We will address the fundamental question of how we can live differently and better, in ways that meet the need for these systemic, deep and rapid emission reductions."

Establishing a programme of social science research that places the role of people at the heart of the transformations needed to bring about a low-carbon, sustainable society, the centre will focus on four challenging areas of everyday life that contribute substantially to climate change, but which have proven stubbornly resistant to change. These include consumption of goods and physical products; food and diet; travel; and heating/cooling in buildings. 

Working closely with members of the public to develop inspiring yet workable visions of a low-carbon future, the centre also aims to develop responses to climate change that emphasise parallel benefits in other areas of life: for example, through promoting wellbeing and cleaner air by moving away from a reliance on cars.

As recent protests in France have shown, policies for tackling fossil fuels can run into vocal opposition if they are seen as unfair or not in line with people's needs. As such, it is essential to understand how to change society in new and compelling ways. Researchers will do this by working closely with members of the public, establishing a citizen’s assembly and a young people's panel to ensure key public concerns are a central part of the centre.  

"The growing school strikes movement in the UK and across the world show that young people are deeply concerned about lack of action on climate change and the impacts they will face in their own lives. We will listen carefully to their views and help convey these to policymakers, together with concrete recommendations for change," said Professor Whitmarsh.

As well as looking to the future, the centre sets out to learn lessons from past and ongoing changes that have occurred across societies. 

Professor Whitmarsh added: "The public health success of reducing smoking rates shows that changing regulations and incentives, along with support from health practitioners, can lead to major shifts in culture and people's behaviour. 

"Research has shown that changes to people’s diets and food production could likewise achieve large-scale reductions in emissions as well as significant health benefits, particularly through reducing consumption of meat and dairy. But while there are signs of change in people’s choices around meat-eating, it will take sustained and intelligent approaches to move forwards in ways that are not dismissed by the wider public or seen as unrealistic by policymakers."

First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, said: "Achieving a low-carbon future is only possible if we all play our part. As a government we recognise the enormity of the challenge, but we will not shirk from it. Today I'm launching Prosperity for All: A Low Carbon Wales, which sets out how the Welsh Government plans to reduce carbon emissions. 

"I'm delighted that alongside this, Cardiff University will lead the establishment of this new research centre. We've worked closely with researchers at Cardiff and its other partner organisation to shape the projects planned by the centre. It’s through collaborative working like this that we can achieve the rapid and far-reaching transformations we need to bring about a sustainable, low carbon society."

The centre will also have a strong practical focus, and will experiment with approaches to bringing about social change at all levels of society, applying behaviour change techniques designed to break people's habits and encourage more active travel. Working with charities, the team will trial practical interventions at the community level to reduce household emissions, and with industry partners to shape sustainable workplace practices. 

The researchers will work closely with Welsh Government and city councils to develop and apply approaches designed to bring down emissions, and better engage the public in tackling climate change. They will also work with politicians and policymakers in the UK and internationally to press for research findings to be implemented in ways that lead to real change. 

Professor Jennifer Rubin, Executive Chair of the Economic and Social Research Council, said: "This is an important centre to be funding, focused on the underlying social science needed to combat climate change and its effects. To tackle climate change, we need better understanding of the role of human behaviour and choices, including around consumption, travel, and how we manage our living and working environments. This centre will work to ensure people are central to the changes needed, and that the work of the centre clearly informs policy and practice."