Sciences received 770% more funding than the social sciences for climate change research

A new and innovative study measures the problem of underfunded social science research into climate change.  “Misallocation of climate research funding“addresses an important issue, since the social sciences seek to understand human and societal attitudes, norms, incentives, and policies – without which understanding, scientific facts seem insufficient to motivate change.  The authors analyzed a new dataset of research grants awarded in 37 countries, including Canada, from 1950 to 2021- a database which represents a cumulative budget of $1.3 trillion U.S.  Included in the category of social sciences research grants were those relevant to the world of work: economics, sociology, business and management, psychology, and law.

The researchers report that:

“Between 1990 and 2018, the natural and technical sciences received 770% more funding than the social sciences for research on issues related to climate change. Only 0.12% of all research funding was spent on the social science of climate mitigation.”  Even the countries identified as spending the most on social science climate research in absolute terms—the UK, the USA, and Germany—spent between 500% and 1200% more on climate research in the natural and technical sciences than on social sciences.

The authors discuss the challenges and potential solutions to promote and improve social science research, including:

  • Funding for climate mitigation needs to match the magnitude of the threat and the narrow window of opportunity for dealing with it.
  • There is a need for better global coordination and oversight of funding for climate research….most obviously, this could reduce redundancy and serve as a mechanism for research teams to identify synergies and possible collaborators.
  • More rigorous social science research is needed…the authors state “Brandt et al. noted that methods were often chosen based on familiarity or specialization of the researchers involved, rather than their suitability for a given research question.”
  • Better alignment with emissions sources and trends… “Some of the funding for climate change-related social science research follows the thematic logic of natural science funding, which does not necessarily fit the social sciences.”
  • Climate change is a global challenge, and therefore, the authors advocate the  use of  “the problem, challenge, or mission-based approach”. They use the example of one such project,  the Global Challenges Research Fund in the United Kingdom, which asked “How can sustainable development be achieved for all while addressing global climate change?”. They urge putting research into the context of challenging, “big picture”questions,  to promote “focused but interdisciplinary social science work.”

Misallocation of climate research funding” is available online now as an Open Access article, and  will appear in print in the April 2020 issue of Energy Research and Social Science. It describes the details of the database analysis  and lists the funding agencies from 37 countries, which included all major member states of the OECD,  as well as Brazil, China, India, and Russia. The relatively few agencies listed from Canada are overwhelmingly science and health –related, with the notable exceptions of the Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Société et culture (FRQSC), the Alberta Centre for Child, Family and Community Research (ACCFCR), and by far the largest, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), acw-logo-transparent-copy which funds the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW ) research project.

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