Claim: University Researchers Feel Powerless to Take Personal Climate Action

by Eric Worrall at

“Barriers” to climate action include pressure to travel, and a lack of financial incentives to embrace low carbon approaches to research.

Climate change: university researchers feel powerless to take action – survey

Published: January 31, 2024 2.38am AEDT
Briony Latter
Researcher in Climate Change Engagement, Cardiff University

University researchers in the UK, across all disciplines and at all career stages, are struggling to take action against climate change despite wanting to do so. 

Many academics worry about climate change but face several barriers to changing their habits, including the pressure to travel. In one case, a climate researcher conducting field work abroad wanted to use slower and more sustainable forms of transport rather than fly back to work at a research institute in Germany. He was fired.

The majority think their university does not give them enough information about how to conduct research in a sustainable way. Funding processes, such as applications for grants to carry out research, do not incentivise low-carbon approaches either, they say.

Different barriers to climate action appear at different career stages. Early career researchers in particular lack institutional support (such as job security or the encouragement to act), are involved in few projects about climate change (whether as part of research or outside of their roles) and feel uncertain about what they can do. 

Mid-career researchers were more likely to complain of a high workload thwarting their ambitions. When asked if senior researchers should have a high responsibility for addressing climate change in universities, senior researchers themselves were more likely to think so than early and mid-career researchers, suggesting that they recognise their own potential role.