- Europeans increasingly consider climate change the single most serious problem facing the world
- Climate tops German voters’ list of concerns
- Energiewende acceptance remains high, but details are tricky
- 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?”
In addition to the standard survey, the EU regularly commissions studies on key topics. In April 2019, 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. At least two-thirds of respondents in almost every country think climate change is a very serious problem, and in 25 countries this view has become more widespread since 2017. The report also includes country factsheets with key data from each member state.
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.
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”
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:
Key phrasing for measuring citizens’ support for Energiewende: “Increased use and expansion of renewable energy is…”
|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.
Key phrasing a) for measuring citizens’ support for Energiewende: "When you think of your personal contribution to the energy transition, which of the following statements is most likely to apply to you?"
|(a) I think the energy transition is a good thing. However, I can or would like to contribute little to it myself.||14%||10%||8%|
|(b) The main thing is that I have sufficient and cheap energy, everything else is not so important to me.||5%||4%||3%|
|(c) The energy transition is a joint task in which everyone in society, including me, should make a contribution.||75%||80%||82%|
|(d) I think the energy transition is wrong and do not want to participate in it.||4%||3%||5%|
The Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) has published three editions of its comprehensive Social Sustainability Barometer. The latest version was conducted by Forsa with online questionnaires in autumn 2019 and included 6,549 households. It showed that a vast majority of Germans broadly support the Energiewende, but views on details varied widely. For example, when it came to rating the implementation of the energy transition, 47 percent said it was bad or rather bad, while only 32 percent had a positive opinion.
The IASS offers more details and visualisation of survey results in its data explorer. It offers insights into where opposition to wind power expansion is greatest in Germany, which age groups support solar rooftop panels the most, or whether low-income households are specifically critical of how the government implements its energy transition policy (the lower the income, the larger the group of those “very unsatisfied”).
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]
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:
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.