Social representations of climate change adaptation

Emma Stevens

In recent years, the UK’s weather has become increasingly unpredictable, with widespread flooding events across the country in late 2015 and early 2016. One of the main climatic changes that the UK is facing is increasingly wetter winters and a higher threat of similar flood events to those we have seen. Despite continuous coverage by the British press of flooding events, there has been no significant reporting on climate change. This media ‘climate silence’ pushes anthropogenic climate change further out of the public debate.

As the climate changes, it is important that the public engages with and understands the potentially disastrous threats that come with it. Extreme weather events capture the interest of the public but with no social cues to guide the public, uncertainty remains prevalent. One problem is that no single weather event can be conclusively linked to climate change. Regardless, these events can provide an opportunity to link together the effects of climate change and the impact this can have on individuals’ lives.

This research aims to address the psychological distance of adapting to future climate change. By exploring individual perceptions of flooding, this project will look at how climate adaptation has been represented in society. It offers a new perspective on how flood risk and climate change can be successfully communicated to the public.

This project is part of the Acting Together Against Climate Change interdisciplinary scholarship network.


Emma Stevens has been working with Hope for the Future since January 2018 because she was inspired by the charity’s relationship based approach to working with politicians. Hope For The Future is a charity that works on climate change issues in a unique way – using empathy to get results. They regularly give the Grantham Scholars training, find out more.

A group of Grantham Scholars including Emma Stevens were funded by the Grantham Centre to go COP24, the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Find out more.

In 2016 Emma Stevens attended the Fifth International Conference on Climate Change Adaptation in Toronto. As world leaders met for COP22, Emma explains how the focus of thinking around climate change is shifting from talk of mitigation to action on adaptation. Read: ‘A roaring lion kills no game’: From mitigation to adaptation.


Dr Steve Connelly

Department of Urban Studies and Planning


Dr Matthew Cotton

University of York

Dr Chris Jones

Department of Psychology