- The latest: Public discontent with government risks slowing Germany’s climate efforts
- 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. The latest: Public discontent with government risks slowing Germany’s climate efforts
While surveys show that Germans support climate action even during times of crisis when issues such as the pandemic or the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis top the list of worries, discontent with specific climate policies and the performance of the government present a risk to the country’s climate efforts.
- Citizens do not want to see climate action deprioritised on the back of other crises, researchers Adrian Rinscheid and Sebastian Koos wrote in a 2023 analysis based on a survey experiment.
- In a survey conducted by the organisation More in Common during summer 2022, rising prices topped the list of most important topics Germany was facing, but the organisation said the energy crisis has not diminished people’s resolve on climate goals. The respondents blamed governments’ failure to invest in renewable energy sooner and agreed that delaying commitments to fight climate change would only increase energy bills in the medium and long term.
- A survey by the Renewable Energies Agency (AEE) during the December 2022 energy crisis found that the need for energy supply security increased acceptance in the German population towards the expansion of renewables.
- A poll by infratest dimap showed that most people who said they would currently vote for the AfD would do so because they are disappointed by the other parties (67%), while only a third was truly convinced by the AfD (32%).
- An August 2023 survey by German tabloid Bild showed that 76 percent of Germans are worried about their future due to climate change, with 46 percent saying that the government is acting too slowly on climate. By contrast, 25 percent said the government was acting at an appropriate pace, and 19 percent said it was acting too quickly.
- Market research firm the Rheingold Institute conducted a survey on “the German state of mind in summer 2023”, commissioned by the Identity Foundation: Eighty-six percent of respondents agreed with the statement that “politicians must develop overarching solutions to all the existing challenges,“ such as the climate crisis, inflation, and social inequality, because these crises cannot be dealt with by individual citizens. However, three quarters (73%) agreed “our politicians have no idea of what they are doing,” with only 34 percent saying they trust the government and its policies.
- Similarly, the annual Social Sustainability Barometer survey, conducted by the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam (RIFS) just as the heating law controversy emerged in early March, found that while support for climate action remained high, many people were dissatisfied with the political implementation of the energy (53%) and transport transitions (38%).
2. Europeans increasingly consider climate change the single most serious problem facing the world
Twice a year, the European Union surveys thousands of people across its member states for its Standard Eurobarometer. The 99th edition was carried out in spring 2023 among residents of the 27 member states. It showed wide support for the energy transition. More than eight in ten EU citizens think that the EU should invest massively in renewable energies, such as wind and solar power (85%). 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 July 2023, the European Commission published the results from a survey on climate action, energy, and the environment. As most EU surveys, this includes aggregated data from the whole of the EU, but also factsheets on each member state. More than three quarters (77%) of all respondents think climate change is a very serious problem at this moment – ranking the seriousness of climate change between 7 and 10 on a scale to 10.
Climate change is considered the most serious problem facing the world by respondents in seven countries: Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, and Sweden. 67 percent of EU citizens think that their national government is not doing enough to tackle climate change.
European Investment Bank’s (EIB) climate survey
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 2022/2023 edition, which was released in two parts, was conducted in partnership with French polling company BVA. Approximately 26,000 respondents aged 15 and older in 30 countries were surveyed in the EU countries and also in the UK, China and the U.S., in addition to another 6,000 people in ten African countries, all in August 2022.
The first part of the survey, published on 27 October 2022, showed that a majority of people from the European Union (66%) say Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its consequences on the price of oil and gas should lead the bloc to speed up the green transition by reducing the consumption of fossil fuels. It also showed that 57 percent of Germans say climate change is one of the three biggest challenges that people in the country are currently facing, a notable 16 percentage points above the European average (41%) and higher than in any other EU member state. In other EU countries, results range from 8 percent in Latvia to 55 percent in Luxembourg.
The second part of the survey, released on 21 March 2023, focused on people’s individual behaviour and the actions they are taking to combat climate change. It showed that 76 percent of Europeans aged 20-29 say the climate impact of prospective employers is an important factor when job hunting, and 22 percent put it as a top priority. Seventy-nine percent of European respondents are in favour of labelling all food to help limit the impact on climate and the environment. Fifty-nine percent of all German respondents are in favour of stricter government measures to impose a change in personal behaviour (69% of people under 30).
3. 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. The coronavirus pandemic caused the issue to drop significantly for several months, but it has since come back to top the list. The fallout of Russia's war against Ukraine – such as the energy crisis – brought worries about inflation and the war itself to the forefront for some months from mid-2022.
Last published: August 2023 (interviews in mid-2022)
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 last edition (Umweltbewusstseinsstudie 2022) was published in 2023. For the representative survey, 2,073 German residents aged 14 and older were asked to fill out online questionnaires. 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. In 2022, the vast majority (91%) of respondents said they support a climate and environmentally-friendly economic transformation, but 39 percent of all respondents and about half of the respondents with low per capita income said they are afraid of a decline of their social status due to the transformation.
4. 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:
Last published: December 2022
Pollster: YouGov for Renewable Energies Agency (AEE)
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%||12%||10%|
In December 2022, the AEE's representative annual survey was conducted by online pollster YouGov, which approached 1,026 people aged 16 and over. The AEE added up the categories “extremely important,” “very important” and “important” to arrive at the conclusion that “at 86 percent [sic], the population's support for renewable energies and thus for the energy transition is very high.” The survey found that Russia's war against Ukraine and the energy crisis has pushed acceptance for renewables. For example, for example, 20 percent of respondents said they were not a fan of wind energy before the crisis, but now believe it should be expanded. It also found broad support for renewable energy installations in interviewees’ direct neighbourhoods (66% 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)
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.”
Do not agree at all
Rather do not agree
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, 86.5 percent (partly) support the energy transition in Germany. A total of 6,543 adult respondents were surveyed by pollster Forsa in February/March 2023.
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.
Last published: September 2022
Pollster: infas Institut für angewandte Sozialwissenschaft GmbH
Key phrasing for measuring citizens’ support for Energiewende: “[not published]
The 2022 survey showed that 86 percent of households say the energy transition is "very important", 7 percent said it was "less important" and 4 percent said it was "not important".
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 2022 edition, pollster infas made telephone interviews with about 4,000 residents in Germany aged 18 and older from end-2021 to early 2022.
5. 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:
Germans' support for the climate movement has halved following the rise of highly controversial street blockades by more radical activists, a survey by More in Common Germany showed in July 2023. Support dropped from 68 percent in 2021 to 34 percent in May this year. While many people see a need for strong actions by the climate movement, the share of respondents who say that protests often go too far has grown substantially (from about half in 2021 to 85%), said More in Common.
A 2021 report by More in Common showed that the majority of Germans want to see more government regulation when it comes to climate protection. The organisation said most people do not want to bear the responsibility as individual consumers alone, because this leads to feelings of overwhelm, helplessness and injustice. Rather, people expect binding action by the community as a whole, with clear goals and a proportionate burden-sharing that involves all levels (politics, business, citizens).
A recent report by the Mercator Forum Migration and Democracy (MIDEM) at Technische Universität Dresden (TUD) showed that climate policies are among the most polarising topics in many European countries, Germany included. On these issues, people show the greatest hostility towards those with opinions differing from their own.