Konrad Kutt  – Material für Erasmus + Projekt „Green thinking Entrepreneur Youth“ – 2. 9. 2020

Regular representative surveys on the environmental awareness of the German population and youth

Since 1996, a representative survey on environmental awareness in Germany has been conducted every two years. The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) and the Federal Environmental Agency (UBA) are responsible for this. In this study, environmental attitudes and behaviour are surveyed as part of social developments, so to speak. These are an important basis for the shaping of environmental policy and environmental communication and are thus also significant for the significance of environmental education within the education system as a whole.

For the representative survey, two survey waves were conducted, each with around 2000 respondents, and a pre-test with 500 participants. The survey was conducted by the field institute Forsa using a standardised online questionnaire. 

For the year 2019, an additional interim survey on central time series questions was conducted with a representative sample of about 2000 persons.

Within the framework of the Environmental Awareness Study 2018, a measuring instrument was developed that depicts three central dimensions of environmental awareness: Environmental effect, environmental cognition and environmental behaviour – i.e. emotional involvement, rational assessment and active action. With this measuring instrument, environmental awareness can in future be expressed in compact indicators and uniformly surveyed.

Some results at a glance

Environmental and climate protection is a priority challenge for people (68%). 

In comparison with previous studies, it can be seen that the importance in the eyes of the population has increased:

The prioritisation of other challenges has also changed significantly. In 2016, wars and terrorism, immigration and migration, crime and public security and social justice were named as the most important problems. In 2019, on the other hand, respondents rated the state of the education system (65 percent) and environmental and climate protection as the most important challenges, in addition to social justice (63 percent).

Thus, in 2019 a total of 76 percent of those surveyed rated the environmental quality in their own city or municipality as very good or fairly good, compared with 60 percent for Germany as a whole.

The assessment of environmental quality is particularly divergent between Germany and abroad. For example, only 7 percent rate global environmental quality as good, while 93 percent rate it as „rather poor“ or „poor“.

The commitment of key players to environmental and climate protection was rated significantly worse in 2018 and 2019 than in previous surveys.

In 2019, only 18 percent of those surveyed thought that the German government was doing enough for environmental and climate protection. 11% percent think that industry is doing enough, and 27% of those surveyed think that citizens themselves are doing enough to protect the environment.

60 percent of those surveyed agree that energy system transformation is helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Germany. Around 90 percent of those surveyed think it is okay for energy system transformation to restructure certain industries, such as coal mining. About the same number are in favour of creating new jobs in regions that would be affected by a coal phase-out. According to the respondents, the federal and state governments, each and every individual and energy-intensive industrial companies can make the greatest contribution to making the energy system transformation in Germany a success.

The central motives for using public transport in everyday life are, at 55 percent in each case, to be able to use the journey time sensibly and thus do something for environmental and climate protection. Around 80 percent of those surveyed said that the central motives for using the bicycle for everyday journeys were fun and health aspects. For two thirds, low costs and climate and environmental protection are the motives.

Three reasons for using the car for everyday journeys are cited by a good 60 percent of those surveyed: The fact that the car can be used to combine several everyday journeys, that destinations are difficult to reach by other means of transport and that using the car saves time.

38% of respondents said that they currently purchase green electricity.

51% of respondents said that they have always chosen particularly energy-efficient appliances when buying household appliances.

81% of 14-22 year olds said that environmental and climate protection is very important, compared to 67% in the sample of 23 years and older.

Environmental and climate protection is therefore the most important topic for young people: 

45% of respondents say it is very important, 33% say it is important.

Just behind with 39% (very important) and 41% (important) are the state of the education system and „social justice“.

Situation analysis and environmental awareness of young people

– Before we turn to the question of the state of the art in environmental education, it seems important to have more precise knowledge or assumptions about how young people in general think about the environment, climate and nature and about their opinions about technology, society and politics. This leads to assessments of their own ability to act and their commitment to environmental protection. These options for action are influenced in particular by regional, national or European framework conditions and influencing factors. These include the often evoked „end-time mood“, after which global warming can no longer be stopped (cf. Geulen: Jenseits der Hoffnung), other problems such as the refugee movement and migration, the corona epidemic and digitalisation. Triggered by Greta Thunberg’s speech at COP24 in Katowice at the end of 2018 and the subsequent student movement „Fridays for Future“, the youth made themselves heard across national borders and demonstrated against the general climate ignorance.

In a study carried out in 2019, 1000 young people aged 14 – 22 years were asked (online) on a representative basis throughout Germany what they think about the environment and the climate.

– Environmental and climate protection is therefore the most important topic for young people: 

45% of respondents say it is very important, 33% say it is important.

Just behind with 39% (very important) and 41% (important) are the state of the education system and „social justice“.

Attitudes towards social and political issues are very strong throughout. More than three-quarters of the interviewees have a very high regard for democracy, elections and the European Union. This also leads to high expectations of politicians to fulfil their duties and obligations towards environmental protection.

80% of respondents know „Fridays for Future“ and a quarter have already been on strike for the climate on a Friday. Actions for the environment support more than half of them.

Who are the most important actors in Germany who should do something for environmental protection and the climate? The three most important ones should be chosen from a list of 9:

Each individual as an actor ranks first with 61%, 

come after that:

Industry with 50 %
Federal government with 48 %
Cities with 31 %
Media with 26 %
Schools with 22 %
Environmental associations with 17 %
Science with 13 %

But what do young people say when they are asked „Who is doing enough for environmental or climate protection? The picture is reversed:

Enough or rather enough are doing something for environmental and climate protection

70%  of the environmental organisations
50% of science
41% of the schools
33% of the media
22 % the Federal Government
32% of the cities
21 % of the individuals
15 % of industry 15%.

It is also important to ask which measures appear to be most important:

Financial support for environmentally friendly products and
Behaviour 52 %
Making the polluter pay 46%.
Promotion of new technologies and research 42%.
Information and education 41 %
Prohibitions and regulations 40 %
Support for low-income groups 28 %
Higher taxation of climate-damaging products 25 %

The study also makes it clear that ecological and social concerns are closely related from the young people’s point of view. Failure to take environmental and climate protection into account may lead to a split in society. Future generations will be burdened, poorer people cannot afford environmentally friendly products, a quarter of the young people say that other countries and global interrelationships must also be perceived and thus causes of flight must be fought.

Are there more opportunities or risks for the environment in view of digitisation? The digitisation of almost all areas of life is indispensable and changes all areas of life. There is no clear answer to this question from young people. Environmental impacts could arise, for example, from online shopping and social alienation. In order to minimise the negative effects on the environment and climate, it seems to be an important task for politics to shape digitisation.

Source: Future? Young people ask! Environment, climate, politics, commitment – what moves young people. A study by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety and the Federal Environment Agency. Status: January 2020

The question to the partners in the Erasmus+ project is: are there similar studies in the individual countries or are there Europe-wide studies that provide information on the level of environmental awareness, especially among young people.

A further question is: What significant contribution does education actually make to long-term awareness and behaviour for environmental protection and „sustainable development“?