Programme launched to tackle climate anxiety in young people

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is launching a new public engagement programme for young adults concerned about the environment.

This comes as part of UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) contribution to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26).

The COP26 eco-anxiety digital engagement project entitled ‘Our Stories, Our Systems’ will facilitate two-way engagement between environmental science researchers and eco-anxious young adults.

The project will connect young people aged 15-25 years old across the UK with UKRI funded researchers to tell their climate stories.

Through discussing both environmental science research and emotions surrounding climate change, the project will enable young people to positively apply climate science to their everyday decision making and outlook on the future.

Tackling an important problem

Recent research has shown that nearly half of young people report feeling distressed or anxious about the climate in a way that affects their daily lives.

Whilst this anxiety is a logical reaction to the climate crisis, it increases young people’s risk of experiencing mental and physical health problems. It can also sometimes act as a barrier to taking positive action against climate change.

As the UK is currently hosting COP26, it is essential that we address the emotional toll that the climate crisis is taking on young people.

Listening to young people

Many young people feel excluded from popular narratives about climate change and this exclusion can be disempowering and exasperate feelings of eco-anxiety.

Through a range of engagement activities including interactive workshops and live events, the project will work with young people to share their perspectives on climate change.

This will inform new narratives about the future of our planet that reflect the voices of those who will inherit the very future that these narratives concern.

Involving the research community

The project draws upon current research literature to map and analyse dominant climate narratives and to consider which narratives exacerbate eco-anxiety, and which have the potential to motivate positive action.

It is grounded in insights from environmental science research to understand how young people are already engaging with the climate crisis and what effective climate action looks like.

This will help identify:

  • the sorts of messages and stories that change our behaviour and outlooks
  • what technical, scientific, and academic expertise is needed to help develop and share these regenerative climate stories in collaboration with eco-anxious young people.

Positive change

NERC Deputy Executive Chair and Director for Corporate Affairs, Alison Robinson, said:

The impacts of climate change are felt beyond changes to our environment.

Many young people are aware of the magnitude of climate change and would like to feel more able to take positive, meaningful actions to tackle climate change so that we can live and prosper in a changing world.

Conversation and storytelling are important ways to bring these concerns to the fore to shape the paths we can take to effectively respond to global warming now and in the future.

This project will help us to better understand how we can involve and support young people, whose future is most at risk from our changing climate and who wish to be part of a positive change to bring about climate action.

This project is funded by NERC,  the UK’s largest funder of independent environmental science, training and innovation. It is being delivered by:

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