Project: Public attitudes to climate change and transport behaviour

Reference: R187

Last update: 03/07/2009 11:45:38


The purpose of the planned research is to provide the Department for Transport (DfT) with an in depth understanding of public engagement with climate change issues and identify how best to influence travel choices in support of its PSA objective, shared with DEFRA and DTI, to reduce the environmental impacts of transport. This research will also contribute to the further development of the Department's communications strategy in relation to climate change.

This project will explore people's knowledge and understanding of climate change and its relationship with transport. The planned project will also seek to provide a greater understanding of how people perceive the link to their own travel behaviour and their attitudes towards the potential for behavioural change in relation to their own travel choices. It will explore the issues that are likely to have most impact in changing behaviour, the barriers to changing travel behaviour for different social groups and how they might be overcome. The research will also consider the potential for providing climate change relevant information to enhance public understanding, awareness and engagement with the issue of travel behaviour change.


There are three broad objectives for this research.

1) To explore public understanding of, and engagement with, climate change;

2) To identify and explore further the barriers and incentives to behavioural change which could result in reduced impact of personal travel behaviour on climate change, and;

3) To explore the role of information provision to improve public awareness, understanding and attitudes towards travel behaviour and climate change and potential for influencing behavioural change.

It is anticipated that the project's findings will serve three primary purposes. First, the findings will contribute to the further development of the evidence base. Second, they will be used to support the development of policies aimed at reducing the environmental impact of travel behaviour. Third, the findings will be drawn upon to further inform the Department's development of effective media and communications campaigns relating to climate change.


People Science and Policy Ltd
Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, London, WC1H 9BB

Contract details

Cost to the Department: £428,506.00

Actual start date: 01 December 2006

Actual completion date: 22 January 2008


Exploring public attitudes to climate changeand travel choices:deliberative research
Author: S. King et al
Publication date: 22/01/2009
Source: DfT Website
More information:

Summary of results

  1. Public understanding and engagement with climate change
    . Awareness of the term 'climate change' was extremely high. However understanding of the causes of climate change was more limited as was an understanding of the relative importance of both transport as a source of climate change emissions and the contribution of different transport modes.
    . Acceptance that climate change is happening was high, but not universal. Those who accept the existence of climate change typically cited local weather conditions, especially milder winter conditions as their rationale. Many were also able to give tangible observations of the existence of climate change such as changes in outdoor working conditions, changes to local wildlife and vegetation.
    . However, many people viewed the negative impacts of climate change as being too distant to influence their concern. This included impacts observed within the UK. For example, the widespread flooding which occurred in England during summer 2007 did not notably influence expressed concern.
    . Although the majority accepted that climate change was happening, this did not always mean that human activity was recognised as a cause. To this extent some people believe that climate change, whilst happening, is simply accelerated by human activity and would have occurred naturally anyway. Similarly, acceptance of a human role does not imply acceptance of individual contribution. Even some of those accepting the latter cited the contributions of other areas such as industry and other countries as outweighing their own contribution.
    . Conflicting media reports and a perceived debate within the scientific community underlie such scepticism. This was cited by some as reason not to take action.
    . Reported concern was quite high, though some variability was identified. Notably women were more concerned about the issue although male concern increased in response to the provision of information and opportunity for deliberation.

    Barriers and motivations for travel behaviour change
    . Most people feel more willing and able to reduce their domestic CO2 emissions compared with those from transport use.
    . Stated willingness to change behaviours is largely high. However, willingness to change transport behaviours is consistently lower than willingness to change non-transport (e.g. domestic) behaviours.
    . The key attitudes which define intentions to reduce car use included a sense of personal responsibility to act and the extent to which individuals felt they could act.
    . Crucially, and reflecting the widely reported 'attitude-behaviour gap', barriers to behaviour change identified within the study mean that actual behaviour does not reflect stated intentions to change.
    . A wide range of motivations and barriers were observed. These included attitudinal and emotional barriers (e.g. habit), information barriers, lifestyle barriers, and practical issues (e.g. whether transporting items/children).
    . Relative to the above, environmental motivations are a secondary concern where considered at all. To this extent many people feel that there is no social pressure to reduce carbon consumption from travel choices but neither is doing so perceived as socially unacceptable. Indeed, for some people reduced environmental impact is viewed as additional advantage of a change made for other reasons such as cost and time savings, health benefits etc.
    . The interplay between these barriers and motivators is complex and varies according to the transport behaviour under consideration e.g. mode shift, trip reduction. In addition, the extent to which people base their decisions on perceived rather than actual barriers cannot be underestimated.
    . When considering the range of travel behaviours that can be adopted to reduce CO2 emissions, many people felt more able to make adjustments to their trip patterns (e.g. by trip chaining, shopping locally), or driving behaviours (e.g. 'smarter driving', keeping tyres at correct pressure) than changing the mode of transport they use. Although important, such changes will not elicit CO2 savings of the magnitude achievable by more significant behaviour change such as mode shift and car sharing, which the majority of people are less willing to consider due to the barriers identified.
    . The behaviour change activities that seem to be more acceptable have a range of benefits to individuals including financial, time, health and environmental and are perceived by participants as easy to incorporate within existing lifestyles. Identifying and utilising these levers in encouraging these behaviours is identified as particularly important.
    . However, encouraging more significant travel behaviour change will require greater consideration of identified barriers as they relate to individual journey types. This will enable appropriate interventions to be developed, which will be important to support communications of information on wider benefits to the individual in order to encourage more significant behavioural change.

    Role of information in improving public awareness and understanding
    . The information needs of the majority of people are broadly the same. Most people request information relating to the underlying science of climate change, potential technological solutions, scope for better transport planning to encourage reduced car use, and national government policy. The majority of people respond positively when provided with this information in a way that they deem to be accessible.
    . Many people are keen to explore what they could do to reduce their personal travel CO2 emissions and the impact of making any changes. Although many people expected a 'magic bullet' to exist particularly through technological developments, many were surprised that travel-related alternatives extended beyond a presumed call to 'give up the car'.
    . Provision of information was shown to increase understanding and engagement and did increase levels of reported concern (notably amongst males). Opportunity to deliberate with this information also increased feelings of personal responsibility and ability to act; both were identified as linked with intentions to change behaviour.
    . Given the identified information gaps and lack of understanding of issues important to climate change, information provision is clearly a necessary and potentially effective step in increasing public engagement.
    . Despite the need for information and the increased intentions to change travel behaviour that resulted from deliberation of provided information, information on its own was insufficient to produce behaviour change in the absence of additional supporting measures.
    . Given the range of attitudes to climate change and the complexities of stated barriers and motivations for travel behaviour change identified by this study, it is important that communication messages target the differing needs of different groups. On this basis a 'one size fits all' communications strategy is unlikely to be effective.
    . It is also clear from this research that the differences in people's engagement with the issue do not segment according to traditional socio-demographic factors. More needs to be done to better understand the attitudinal differences across the population in relation to the complexities of travel choices to enable the consideration and development of targeted policy and communications