Title                          Overcoming Obstacles and Disincentives to Climate Change Mitigation: A cross-cutting approach by human                                             and social sciences

Lead PI                      Prof Andrea Catellani, Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium

Partner PI                  Dr Louise-Amélie Cougnon, Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium
                                   Prof Olivier De Schutter, Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium
                                   Prof Serge Guimond, Universite Clermont Auvergne, France
                                   Prof Øyvind Gjerstad, University of Bergen, Norway
                                   Prof Kjersti Fløttum, University of Bergen, Norway
                                   Dr Armelle Nugier, Université Clermont Auvergne, France
                                   Prof Michel Streith, Université Clermont Auvergne, France
                                   Mrs Sophie Monceau, Université Clermont Auvergne, France

Funding Agencies    BELSPO (Belgium) , ANR (France), RCN (Norway)

Project website

2-minute video pitch of the project

Picture credits: Marie-Pascale Gafinen


Climate change today is undoubtedly a challenge for humanity. The Special IPCC 1,5 °C report highlighted the numerous dramatic consequences of climate change; yet, the response of our societies has been slow, contradictory and elusive. Climate change and its consequences are particularly embedded in culture, making it difficult for individuals and societies to manage these phenomena cognitively (Fløttum, 2018: 21): "[it] moved from being a predominantly physical phenomenon to being simultaneously a political, social, and cultural phenomenon - and thus, a communication challenge". The humanities and social sciences are called on to make a crucial contribution to the understanding of how humans approach and make sense of climate change, in order to reduce the value-action gap, using innovative forms of communication to identify entrypoints for climate action. This research project has the transformative aim to improve the scientific understanding of why societies remain indifferent to the risks of climate change, and to understand how multimodal devices and recommendations can convert apathy into action. We will look into the active and essential role of language,
narrative, and discourses in shaping citizens’ beliefs and actions, through the interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary collaboration between linguistics, semiotics, law and governance, anthropology and social psychological approaches. The project will develop a practical tool in the form of an open-source toolbox platform, providing recommendations, prototypes and resources to citizens, public decision-takers and nongovernmental organisations on climate change communication strategies. The project will focus on Belgium,
France, and Norway. The toolbox will be tested notably in the course of the deployment of “Opt4Climate”, a campaign led in Belgium by the major actors of the climate social movements, with the support of the King Baudouin Foundation. Through analyses of survey discourse and answers, and of social media data, the aim of the project is to contribute, through transformational learning, to an innovative understanding of Europeans’ individual and collective values, beliefs, and interests as regards obstacles versus opportunities to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and thus to climate change mitigation.

WP1 (Lead Belgium) will focus on the coordination of the project as a whole. WP2 (Lead Norway) will look into how people perceive and interpret narratives concerning climate change issues and how social actors construct their positions on climate change by mediating different voices in society. WP3 and WP4 (Lead Belgium) will be based on a semiotic and rhetoric approach of online discourses about climate change, aimed at identifying (1) scepticism, denial, disagreement, and conflict in Reddit argumentations (Cougnon et al., 2019); (2) ideologically charged policies from public decision-takers on Twitter; and (3) the interaction
between image and text that facilitates or complicates dialogue, understandings, and calls for action on YouTube and Instagram. In line with WP2, WP5 and WP6 (Lead France) aim to examine how and why individuals can remain indifferent or sceptical to the risks of climate change, as well as what interventions might be carried out to challenge mindsets and motivations. First, social-psychological factors that determine citizen engagement in environmental behaviours will be explored. Second, we will analyse the effects of the
climate change risk on citizens’ perceptions, behaviours, and attitudes. All the WPs work together for a transformational learning that will enable citizen empowerment and engagement of decision-makers. The methods used will combine qualitative as well as quantitative surveys and laboratory experiments (including eye-tracker and facereader evaluations). The project involves close collaboration with non-academic partners with whom concrete outputs for the project have already been defined.