6 Research Topics on Climate Change: Psychology and Governance Related

A philosopher ponders issues on climate change.


I wrote this article for colleagues in the arts and public administration to serve as guideposts for research topics on climate change. I recognize their difficulty figuring out what research topics to pursue as they are not in the sciences. Thus, the climate change issues discussed in this article relate to psychology and governance.

Climate change is an issue that cuts across many disciplines. However, research topics on climate change seldom get discussed in psychology and public administration circles. Most climate change studies lean towards the biophysical sciences, as the factors that cause climate change are either natural or environmental.

However, looking closely at climate change issues makes this contention subject to scrutiny. The literature reveals that several psychological and governance-related studies examine this complex phenomenon.

I explore research topics on climate change from existing literature that will jumpstart psychology and public administration specialists’ endeavor to foster understanding of this cross-cutting global issue.

I enumerated four psychology research topics on climate change and two on governance.

I drew out the following ideas from the research topics identified by the American Psychological Association. I took the liberty of rephrasing the research topics on climate change presented on that site to avoid duplication of words.

I also wrote the following questions to suit local conditions, i.e., relevant to the thrusts and priorities of universities in tropical regions. However, this listing does not preclude their applicability in temperate countries.

Let’s begin.

1. Environment-directed Messages and People’s Behavior

How can well-designed environment-directed messages increase people’s behavior that are beneficial to the environment?

Examples of environment-beneficial behavior will be the three Rs of recycling, reduction, and reuse of materials. I remembered writing an article about an indigenous person who reused otherwise unusable materials from a nearby mining company to build a mini-hydropower plant in a remote place in Bataraza.

Boyet, the enterprising Tagbanua, made use of materials in a materials recycling facility to build a makeshift dam, a cultural diffusion scenario, where many of his neighbors and friends benefitted. His crude effort to produce power in an environment-friendly way can have significant implications on how people can reduce harmful emissions to the atmosphere associated with fossil-fuel as source of electrical energy.

2. Climate Change and Quality of Life

Is there a relationship between climate change evidences like sea level rise, warming temperatures, and changing agricultural production to the quality of life of the members of the community?

It would be great to know the relationship of the continuing fluctuations of the weather to people’s quality of life. Will these events be beneficial or detrimental in the long term? Many studies can arise from this simple question alone.

This study’s results will enhance the quality of policy makers’ decisions on those government initiatives that impact people’s lives. The findings will also streamline their interest and attention to deal with relevant steps in addressing the harmful effects of climate change.

3. Environmental Protection and Benefits

Why is there a general concern about nature? What are the reasons behind such interest in conserving or protecting the environment? What can be gained from the environmental programs, projects and activities?

Everybody knows some of the answers. But which of these answers are the foremost reasons why people try to keep the environment intact or at the very least minimize exploitation? You may get exciting findings based on the questions posed earlier.

4. People’s Response to Unpredictable Weather Events

How does climate change as evidenced by unpredictable weather events affect people?

I remembered the disastrous flooding events in Marikina in Manila in 2009 and Iloilo City in the Western Visayas due to Typhoon Frank. The residents of Marikina and Iloilo City never expected the flooding to occur. Flooding didn’t happen in the past. Unpreparedness to disasters like this caused a lot of damages to property and even loss of life.

How do you think those people affected feel? What are in their minds on those times when life-threatening disasters strike? Should they have survived had they been prepared for such an unpredictable event? Preparation matters a lot.

At this point, I do hope that these psychology research topics on climate change can generate more interesting ideas. You can draw out and remember theories from the lectures given you by your teachers on human psychology that will serve as your theoretical framework as you embark on writing down your conceptual framework

Is there any relationship between climate change and governance? What are research topics of interest regarding climate change and governance? I define governance first because it is a vague term to many students. I also present two major research topics on climate change and governance. The topics will jumpstart ideas and direct research on this field.

To understand how climate change relates to governance and vice-versa, you should first have a good understanding of what governance means. The climate change issue is already well discussed in many literature and studies. However, governance appears to be a term that still baffles many, especially undergraduate students trying to make their way about this subject.

What then is governance? The following definition of governance makes clear the concept and lays down the foundation to beginning researchers on this subject in order to carry out studies on climate change and governance.

Definition of Governance

Governance, as the root word govern connotes, does not necessarily mean government. Sometimes, governance is used interchangeably with the government. But these terms are not the same.

The process of government’s management of its affairs towards the desired order is governance. The government does governance but governance is not necessarily done by a government.

There are actually many definitions of governance. From what I gather, I would adopt the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) simplified definition as this site is devoted to simplifying things for understanding. Besides this is about climate change, a worldwide concern, that researchers would like to relate with climate change.

So here’s the UNESCAP definition of governance:

Governance is the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented).

This is an excellent, easily understandable definition of governance. It is a process. Therefore, it is something that people involved do to carry out whatever decision outcomes have been agreed upon or arrived at. Those decisions may be done by people in government but may also be done in a corporate setting and at different levels, or scope, i.e., local, national, or international.

Now, since the definition of governance is in place how can the relationship between climate change and governance be studied? The next topic explores the issues to reveal research topics on climate change and governance.

The following are two major topics on climate change and governance where other related topics can arise.

1. Compliance to Laws, Ordinances, or Resolutions on Climate Change

What prevents people from complying with the most efficient and effective policies of government?

It will be interesting to know how people make decisions, whether to follow or not follow the rules and regulations, particularly those climate change-related resolutions, ordinances, and laws. What keeps people from complying with these policies, and what encourages them to follow voluntarily or willingly?

A model can represent the decision-making scenario that can help predict people’s compliance with government statutes. Policymakers will then have a better view of their constituency’s sentiments. This approach is called science-based policymaking.

How do people’s compliance to laws, ordinances or resolutions relate to climate change?

Compliance is a perennial issue requiring more research work. Laws, regulations, or policies may be clearly laid, but some people ignore them for some reason.

Examples of climate change-related questions focusing on compliance are given below:

  • How do people behave towards climate change-related laws and ordinances?
  • How do people behave towards laws and ordinances related to climate change?

Since governance refers to implementing decisions through government policies or enactments, it would be interesting to know how these laws get carried out in the field.

The following questions can unravel the reasons for non-compliance to climate change-related laws:

  • Do people comply with climate change-related laws?
  • What are climate change-related laws?
  • Are climate change-related laws religiously implemented as any other law the government formulated, such as laws that are matters of life and death?
  • How are these climate change-related laws implemented by the law enforcers? What are the outcomes of enforcement?

There are many issues associated with law or policy enforcement. Implementation is replete with many flaws due to the complexity of consequences arising from enforcement.

Additional questions related to this concern are as follows:

  • What are incentives for people to respond and act accordingly to the intended desired outcomes of policy?

Incentives here refer, not only to punishment in terms of physical penalty, but could be monetary, such as the imposition of fines. That brings us to another question:

  • Are those fines enough to prevent the transgression of laws?

Now, you’ll see that many other questions arise as the subject of compliance is tackled.

2. Development of Laws and Policies on Climate Change

How are laws and policies arrived at by those exercising governance?

Are policymakers in any way well guided in the process of making their decisions? Where do they base their decisions? Are those decisions founded on some objective basis, or are these just random fruits of the mind or merely self-interest?

Good governance should be objective. Thus, decision-making must be objective, especially of a government that influences the citizens of a country through policies on climate change. What should policymakers then do to make their decisions objective?

To effectively address the issue of climate change, the government must have the correct statistics or background on which to base their decisions. How are climate change-related laws formulated?

To effectively implement climate change-related laws, experts believe that policymaking should be science-based so that laws become more objective and efficient.

While at a conference, a colleague mentioned that the Malaysian government practices science-based policymaking. The authorities encourage their researchers to troubleshoot problematic areas that require their expertise. Whatever the researchers recommend, the government correspondingly acts on those recommendations. Those in government have such high respect for their researchers. I wonder if this is happening in other countries implementing climate change-related policies.

At this point I believe that many ideas on climate change and governance are already popping out of your head. Write those things down and start reviewing literature about them.

© 2022 January 17 P. A. Regoniel | Updated 2024 January 10