Climate Action Unit


Climate Action Unit publishes insights from its first Programme for MPs and Peers

11 January 2022

Climate change is the elephant in EVERY room - explains a newly published article in the journal Science in Parliament

Climate Action Programme for UK Parliament front cover image

In 2021, The Climate Action Unit delivered a bespoke programme for a group of MPs and Peers looking to bring climate action into their professional roles. A new article in the journal Science in Parliament describes the discussions which took place behind closed doors. 

MPs from the Conservative, Labour, Scottish National Party as well as crossbench Peers took part in five online sessions to understand the human factors involved in (or preventing) action on climate change.

This included the science of how people become divided on what actions are meaningful – a form of political polarisation, and how an individual’s values affect what kinds of messages and actions resonate with them. The participants also explored how stories of impending climate disaster often fail to drive action, and how what drives action is just taking a first step at doing.

The MPs and Peers were given the space to apply these insights to the context of their own climate-related challenges. Some wanted to know how to deal with their constituents’ indifference on this issue. One MP was facing a constituency divided on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTN); a local government scheme which has proven to be particularly polarising. Others were struggling to work out how to accelerate the uptake of lowcarbon technologies in a particular sector (e.g. agriculture or shipping).

The programme's aim was to enable parliamentarians to think about the different levers they have to deliver effective action on climate across society. Feedback gathered during the programme suggests it worked. One Labour MP explained:

“I really valued the opportunity to take a few steps back and consider the thought processes and instincts which underpin so much of our communication in relation to climate change.

The programme was inspired, in part, by earlier work from Prof Rebecca Willis. After interviewing a number of MPs, Willis concluded: "It’s long been known that the way in which people act on scientific evidence is complex. We don’t just look at the evidence and calculate a rational response; instead our understanding is mediated by our social setting, outlook and experience. Politicians are no exception."

This idea – that acting on climate change can’t be done without dealing with people factors - is at the core of the Climate Action Unit’s work. These ‘people factors’ are the individual differences in perception, opinion, lived experience, knowledge, understanding, values, worldviews etc. The way people factors impact on climate action are summarised in the CAU's seven insights:

climate action unit seven insights on climate action infographic

The first cohort of MPs completed the programme in March 2021, ahead of COP26 which took place in Glasgow in October. The Climate Action Unit is keen to run further cohorts in 2022 and beyond.