22 Sep 2021, 10:00

Polls reveal citizens' support for climate action and energy transition

The German public increasingly puts climate action at the top of its policy priorities and remains strongly in support of the transition to a low-carbon and nuclear-free economy. The picture across Europe is more diverse, although climate is becoming a top issue almost everywhere. This factsheet provides a summary of major polls measuring citizens' views on climate action and their acceptance of the energy transition. [UPDATES FG Wahlen poll graph]
  1. Europeans increasingly consider climate change the single most serious problem facing the world
  2. Climate tops German voters’ list of concerns
  3. Energiewende acceptance remains high, but details are tricky
  4. Other recent surveys on climate and energy

1. Europeans increasingly consider climate change the single most serious problem facing the world

Twice a year, the European Union surveys thousands of people across the member states for its Standard Eurobarometer. The 93rd edition in summer 2020 was carried out by data consultancy Kantar among more than 25,000 residents from the 27 member states aged 15 and older. Included in the standard set of questions is “What do you think are the two most important issues facing the EU at the moment?”

Graph shows EU Eurobarometer results to question "What are 2 most important issues facing the EU" 2010-2019. Source: European Union/CLEW.
Data source: European Union

In addition to the standard survey, the EU regularly commissions studies on key topics. In July 2021, the European Commission published results from a climate change survey in a report. It concluded that climate change is increasingly considered not only a very serious problem but the single most serious problem facing the world today. 18 percent of respondents said so, making it the first time climate change ranks first, ahead of all other global challenges listed in the survey. At least a quarter of respondents in every country think climate change is one of the most serious problems facing the world.

The report also includes country factsheets with key data from each member state. For Germany, it shows that 28 percent of respondents consider climate change the most serious problem facing the world, a much higher proportion than the EU average.

In addition to the Eurobarometer, the European Investment Bank (EIB) – which calls itself the world’s biggest multilateral financial institution and one of the largest providers of climate finance – has annually commissioned its EIB climate survey since 2018. The 2020/2021 edition, released in three parts, was conducted in partnership with French polling company BVA. In all, approximately 30,000 respondents in 30 countries were surveyed from 5 October to 2 November 2020. The survey was conducted in the countries of Europe and also in China and the U.S.

It showed that about one-third of EU citizens named climate change as one of the three top issues their countries are facing (the COVID-19 pandemic topped the list with 72%). This was true for half of respondents in Germany, but for much fewer in countries like Latvia (10%), Spain (21%) and Croatia (12%). The survey also showed how the COVID-19 crisis influences citizens’ perception of the climate emergency. Fifty-seven percent of Europeans said that the post-pandemic economic recovery must take the climate emergency into account, while 43 percent said the economy must be boosted by any means to return to economic growth as soon as possible.

The third part, published on 10 March 2021, explored people’s expectations of government policies to tackle climate change. 39 percent of Europeans said the best way to fight climate change is through a radical change in their individual habits. 29 percent count instead on technological innovation. Meanwhile, people in China (35%) and the United States (34%) believed technological improvements (e.g. innovation, digitalisation, development of renewable energy) are the most effective way to fight climate change.

2. Climate tops German voters’ list of concerns

Politbarometer (Forschungsgruppe Wahlen)

Last published: regularly, about twice/month
Pollster: Forschungsgruppe Wahlen

Key phrasing for measuring citizens’ concern for climate action: “What do you think is the most important problem in Germany at the moment?”

Pollster Forschungsgruppe Wahlen has conducted its representative Politbarometer survey since 1977, and once or twice per month asks respondents to name the most important problem Germany is currently facing. Environment/climate/energy transition have stayed relatively level for more than a decade, when in 2018/19 it showed an increase in voter concern that catapulted it to the top of the list until the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020. This change was driven by exceptionally warm summers with drought, the Fridays for Future climate protest movement and intense public debates about policies, such as the coal exit.

 

Environmental Awareness study (UBA, BMU)

Last published: May 2019 (regular 2018 version), January 2020 (interim survey)
Pollster: Forsa

Key phrasing for measuring citizens’ concern for climate action: “On this list are various problems facing our country today. Please indicate in each case how important you think the problem mentioned is.”  -- Reply: “very important”

Graph shows survey results of the Umweltbewusstseinsstudie on important issues Germans think the world is facing. Source: UBA/BMU/CLEW.
Source: BMU/UBA

The Federal Environment Agency (UBA) and the environment ministry (BMU) have conducted their environmental awareness study every two years since 1996. In 2019, pollster Forsa carried out an interim survey.

The last regular version (Umweltbewusstseinsstudie 2018) was published in 2019. For the representative survey, 4,000 German residents aged 14 and older were asked to fill out online questionnaires in two parts, as there were many questions. As the title suggests, respondents were asked questions about a broad range of environmental topics, from climate action and the energy transition to agriculture and transport. Eighty-one percent of respondents in 2018 agreed somewhat or fully with the statement that the energy transition in Germany progressed too slowly to effectively protect the climate.

3. Energy transition acceptance remains high

The government-appointed expert commission tasked with monitoring the progress of Germany’s Energiewende has in recent years regularly warned of fading citizen acceptance of key energy transition infrastructure projects. The installation of new wind turbines or major power transmission lines has faced increasing local resistance, which endangers the success of the transition, say the experts. At the same time – and this is no contradiction, they say – general acceptance of wind and solar power expansion or the need for new power lines remain high in Germany – mostly by “passive supporters.” The problem, according to the government advisors, is the “loud minority,” which campaigns against individual projects across the country.

The outcome of surveys on citizens’ support for the energy transition often depends on how the questions are phrased and what responses are possible. Below is a list of several major and recurring surveys, including the key phrasing:

 

“Acceptance Survey” (AEE)

Last published: January 2021
Pollster: YouGov for Renewable Energies Agency (AEE)

Key phrasing for measuring citizens’ support for Energiewende: “Increased use and expansion of renewable energy is…”

  2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Extremely/very important 70% 66% 70% 66% 66% 65% 72% 66% 65%
Important 24% 27% 22% 27% 27% 30% 21% 23% 21%
Less important/not important at all 6% 6% 7% 6% 6% 4% 6% 8% 10%

In 2021, the AEE's representative annual survey was conducted by online pollster YouGov, which approached 1,051 people aged 16 and over. The AEE added up the categories “extremely important,” “very important” and “important” to arrive at the conclusion that “almost nine out of ten citizens (86%) support the increased use of renewable energy in Germany.” It also found broad support for renewable energy installations in interviewees’ direct neighbourhoods (60% good/very good), which increased further if respondents already had experience with such installations.

"Social Sustainability Barometer of the Energy and Transport Transition" (Ariadne project)

Last published: July 2021
Pollster:
Forsa

Key phrasing for measuring citizens’ support for Energiewende: " What do you personally think about the energy transition? Please mark the extent to which you disagree or agree with each of the following statements. – I support the energy transition in Germany.”

 

2021

Do not agree at all

4.8 %

Rather do not agree

5.7 %

Partly agree

19 %

Rather agree

31.5 %

Fully agree

38 %

Don’t know

1 %

Under the umbrella of the Ariadne project, a large group of research institutes with a focus on the energy transition has published the results of this survey. Of the respondents, 88.5 percent (partly) support the energy transition in Germany. A total of 6,822 adult respondents were surveyed by pollster Forsa in March/April 2021.

The survey builds on the comprehensive Social Sustainability Barometer, which the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) had published in recent years. The question catalogue has been changed for the new version.

The Ariadne project offers more details and visualisation of survey results in its online version. It offers insights into specifics of acceptance of wind power expansion by local residents, how respondents think about European climate targets, and their attitude towards CO2 pricing.

 

Energy Transition Barometer (KfW)

Last published: September 2020
Pollster: infas Institut für angewandte Sozialwissenschaft GmbH

Key phrasing for measuring citizens’ support for Energiewende: “[requested; KfW had not replied by the time of publication]

Graph shows survey results of KfW Energiewende Barometer: Acceptance by Germans of energy transition. Source: KfW.
Source: KfW

KfW – a government-owned development banking institution – has commissioned its Energy Transition Barometer since 2018. The survey focuses on the attitude of households to the energy transition and the extent to which technologies relevant to energy transition are used in the various households. For the 2020 edition, pollster infas made telephone interviews with about 4,000 residents in Germany aged 18 and older. The survey showed that less than a quarter of households in Germany has key energy transition technologies, such as heat pumps or e-cars. Respondents are reluctant to acquire such technologies because they estimate these won’t pay off or are too laborious to install. 

4. Other recent surveys on climate and energy

German businesses, NGOs, research institutions or ministries regularly publish survey results on key climate action and energy transition issues. Most of these are one-off publications and not part of a longer series. Here are several recent examples:

The representative Deutschlandtrend survey which pollster Infratest dimap regularly conducts for public broadcaster ARD showed Environment/Climate at the top of “most important political/policy problems” in June 2021 (28%, followed by immigration, social injustice and coronavirus with 19% each). 32 percent of respondents said they didn’t want to restrict their daily lives to protect the climate. When faced with the choice of “in the right direction”/”in the wrong direction”, 75 percent said a stronger increase of petrol prices goes in the wrong direction in terms of climate action measures. However, 65 percent supported higher prices for flights and 57 percent supported a 130 kilometres/hour speed limit on the Autobahn.

German citizens would like to see their municipalities act more on climate change, according to a survey commissioned by the Bertelsmann Foundation and published in January 2021. More than half of the citizens surveyed said their local authorities attached only medium importance to climate protection (55%) and climate adaptation (54%) measures.

A large majority of Germans are prepared to make significant lifestyle changes to help protect the climate and environment, according to a survey commissioned by Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) and conducted by the Kantar Institute, published in December 2020. Eighty-six percent of about 1,000 respondents answered ‘yes’ to the question “Are you prepared to make significant lifestyle restrictions in the future to protect the climate?”

Climate policy could be a decisive issue for the vast majority of voters in Germany's parliamentary elections in 2021, a representative survey conducted by pollster YouGov for solar power industry lobby group BSW Solar found in December 2020. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of respondents said climate policy could be important (32%) or very important (41%) when deciding who to vote for.

The role of global warming and climate action in German media has grown constantly over the last year, putting it on the agenda of an increasing number of citizens, the Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW Köln) found in August 2020. While about one in four Germans said in 2015 that they did not regularly receive information on climate topics, this number fell to only one in nine people five years later, with most people using television or the TV station's media libraries to inform themselves.

Climate action remains a priority for most people in Germany even as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic are challenging citizens on many levels, the economic research institutes ZEW and RWI found in a survey of German households published in July 2020. More than 90 percent of the respondents said the topic's importance has remained constant or even increased since the beginning of the year.

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