Geophysical models of climate change are becoming increasingly sophisticated, yet less effort is devoted to modelling the human systems causing climate change and how the two systems are coupled. Here, we develop a simple socio-climate model by coupling an Earth system model to a social dynamics model. We treat social processes endogenously—emerging from rules governing how individuals learn socially and how social norms develop—as well as being influenced by climate change and mitigation costs. Our goal is to gain qualitative insights into scenarios of potential socio-climate dynamics and to illustrate how such models can generate new research questions. We find that the social learning rate is strongly influential, to the point that variation of its value within empirically plausible ranges changes the peak global temperature anomaly by more than 1°C. Conversely, social norms reinforce majority behaviour and therefore may not provide help when we most need it because they suppress the early spread of mitigative behaviour. Finally, exploring the model’s parameter space for mitigation cost and social learning suggests optimal intervention pathways for climate change mitigation. We find that prioritising an increase in social learning as a first step, followed by a reduction in mitigation costs provides the most efficient route to a reduced peak temperature anomaly. We conclude that socio-climate models should be included in the ensemble of models used to project climate change.