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Communicating climate and weather risk

Combining expertise in behavioural decision making and climate change adaptation, Leeds researchers have determined the implications of different types of local weather on people’s beliefs about climate change and their decisions about risk. This research is informing best practice in communicating climate change and weather risks to UK audiences.

Research conducted in the USA has found that higher than average local temperatures tend to correspond with greater concern about climate change. However, in temperate regions such as the UK people often have positive feelings towards hot weather. This raises questions as to whether (a) different types of weather inform beliefs about climate change, and (b) positive feelings towards hot weather reduce concerns about its negative impacts.

Leeds research has shown that UK residents perceive wet weather to have become more common and hot weather to have become less common. When we examined changes in beliefs over 2013-2014, we found evidence for experiential reasoning, such that perceiving increases in wet weather over time leads to stronger climate change belief. We also found evidence for motivated reasoning, such that UK residents with stronger climate change beliefs are more likely to perceive increases in both hot weather and wet weather.

UK residents’ positive feelings about hot weather undermine their willingness to implement recommended heat protection behaviours such as avoiding the midday sun and drinking lots of liquids. Heat protection warnings have limited effect on heat protection behaviours because they evoke pleasant feelings about impending heat. Reminding UK residents of unpleasant aspects of hot weather (which most have experienced but do not think about when hot weather is expected) increases their willingness to implement the recommended heat protection behaviours.

Key messages:

  • Climate change communications that target UK audiences should not focus exclusively on changes in temperature, but also consider other impacts that are locally relevant (e.g. rainfall and flooding).
  • When encouraging people to take steps to protect against weather risks that evoke positive feelings, stressing their unpleasant aspects may increase the likelihood of behaviour change.

Experts include Wändi Bruine de Bruin, Professor of Behavioural Decision Making; Andrea Taylor, University Academic Fellow in Decision-making and Preparedness for Climate Change; and Suraje Dessai, Professor of Climate Change Adaptation.

Research paper: Climate Change Beliefs and Perceptions of Weather Related Changes in the United Kingdom, Risk Analysis, 34, p. 1995 – 2004, 2014.