Findings of the 2023 Social Sustainability Barometer
Households across Germany are taking steps to save energy, and despite the many uncertainties, the energy and transport transitions continue to enjoy broad support. Many people would like to see solutions that contribute to action on climate change and also help to mitigate the financial impact of higher energy prices. This is among the findings of a survey published in the latest iteration of the Social Sustainability Barometer, which was conducted by forsa on behalf of a team of researchers for the Ariadne project at the Research Institute for Sustainability - Helmholtz Centre Potsdam (RIFS).
41 per cent of those surveyed reported that the issue of climate action was now even more important. "Despite this widespread support for the energy transition, many people feel that the measures taken to cushion the impacts of inflation and higher energy prices do not go far enough," commented RIFS researcher Ingo Wolf on the survey’s findings. "The majority of citizens feel that the relief has not been distributed equitably and that lower income households do not receive enough assistance."
Public support for climate action is widely underestimated
It is also interesting to look at the actual and perceived public support for action on climate change. For example, the level of public support for the development of wind power projects in the vicinity of residential areas is frequently underestimated. While respondents estimated the level of public support for onshore wind power in Germany at around one third (32 per cent), it is actually over half (59 per cent). Similarly, those surveyed broadly believed that only just over half of their fellow citizens are willing to consume less electricity and gas - although 77 per cent report a willingness to do so.
“Distorted perceptions of actual public opinion on the development of renewable energy capacities can have a negative impact on the permitting of new infrastructure and give politicians the false impression that communities do not want to do their part in making the energy transition reality," warns RIFS researcher Ortwin Renn. “Ensuring that people are aware of the actual majority and minority views on different electricity and mobility transition measures is vital for the political debate and decision-making process."
Individuals have played their part – It’s time for industry and policymakers to tackle the energy transition
According to the survey, a large proportion of citizens have intentionally changed their consumption to achieve energy savings. The survey also shows that private investment in climate-friendly technologies is growing. For example, the share of people who purchased an e-vehicle doubled from 2021 to 2023, reaching 10 per cent, and the share of people who installed solar panels on their homes increased from 17 per cent to 28 per cent.
A clear majority of people, however, appear to have exhausted their household energy savings potential, and just under half reported that investing in e-mobility was not feasible at present. At the same time, many now feel that the time has come for industry and policymakers to step up their efforts and are frustrated at the lack of urgency shown in the implementation of instruments to mitigate climate change. The high cost of green energy and a misguided focus on climate-neutral mobility also come in for criticism, and there is widespread concern that the benefits and burdens of the energy and transport transition are not being shared equitably.
How researchers interpret the results:
Co-author and RIFS researcher Benita Ebersbach: “People want the burdens of the energy and transport transitions to be shared fairly. Their concerns are not limited to the question of financial relief but also touch on aspects such as transportation equity, as the findings of the Social Sustainability Barometer show."
Co-author and RIFS researcher Jean-Henri Huttarsch: "Even against a backdrop of war and rising inflation, people in Germany consider climate change to be among the most pressing problems facing society. Our findings show that citizens view the challenge of tackling climate change as a shared responsibility – for the public, for businesses and industry, and above all for policymakers. This survey is a clear call to continue our efforts to deliver effective and equitable climate action."
The Social Sustainability Barometer in brief
The Social Sustainability Barometer of the Energy and Transport Transition was developed by Ariadne researchers at the Research Institute for Sustainability - Helmholtz Centre Potsdam (RIFS). This longitudinal study surveys at annual intervals the concerns, expectations and experiences of German citizens in connection with the planning and implementation of these critical transformation processes. This makes it possible to track developments and changes over time and to establish direct links to specific policies and events. The resulting detailed record of the sociodemographic, psychological and behavioural characteristics of over 6,500 respondents annually also enables researchers to consider a wide range of sociological correlations. The Social Sustainability Barometer of the Energy and Transport Transition is a panel study that has been conducted on an annual basis since 2021. Surveys of public opinion for the Social Sustainability Barometer are conducted online by Forsa (forsa.omninet).
Ingo Wolf, Benita Ebersbach, Jean-Henri Huttarsch: Soziales Nachhaltigkeitsbarometer der Energie- und Verkehrswende 2023. Was die Menschen in Deutschland bewegt – Ergebnisse einer Panelstudie zu den Themen Energie und Verkehr. Kopernikus-Projekt Ariadne, 2023 Potsdam.
Explore the 2023 Social Sustainability Barometer online (German language content): Interactive data visualization
Anne-Kathrin Fischer, Jean-Henri Huttarsch, Ingo Wolf: Soziales Nachhaltigkeitsbarometer
der Energie- und Verkehrswende 2021 — Daten- und Methodenbericht. Kopernikus-Projekt Ariadne, 2022 Potsdam.
Link to project homepage: https://ariadneprojekt.de/