Environmental awareness in Germany

People walking in a park.Click to enlarge
For most people, an intact environment is an essential part of a good life.

People walking in a park.

Source: LauraTara / pixabay.com

Environmental protection and climate action as a key challenge

In addition to the scheduled survey of 2018, an intermediate survey including key time-series questions was carried out in the early summer of 2019.
Out of all the problems which Germany faced in 2018 and again in 2019, environmental protection and climate action took precedence over every other challenge for the people surveyed.
In comparison to the previous year, it was apparent that the issue had gained in significance in the eyes of the population. Whereas about half of those surveyed in 2016 reported that environmental protection and climate action was a very important challenge, the figure increased significantly in 2018, up to 64 percent, and again in 2019, reaching 68 percent.
Substantial changes have taken place in the prioritisation of other challenges. In 2016, it was war and terrorism, immigration and migration, crime and public safety, along with social justice, which topped the list of major concerns. In 2019, however, the respondents considered environmental protection and climate action to be the most significant challenge, alongside social justice (63 percent; 2018: 65 percent) and the state of education (65 percent; 2018: 69 percent).

Concern about environmental quality

In comparison to earlier studies, the respondents rated environmental quality in Germany less positively. In 2019, a total of 76 percent of the respondents assessed the environmental quality of their own town, city or municipality as either very good or fairly good; with regard to Germany as a whole, the figure dropped back to 60 percent. Compared to 2016, the number of those assessing the environmental quality positively fell by several percentage points.
Assessments of environmental quality reveal a large difference between the global and national pictures. For instance, only 7 percent considered global environmental quality to be good, whereas 93 percent of respondents rated it as either poor or rather poor.

Critical assessment of the performance of relevant actors

The commitment of central actors to environmental protection and climate action was considered to be significantly worse in 2018 and 2019 than in earlier surveys. Only 18 percent of the respondents in 2019 were of the view that the German government was doing enough for environmental protection and climate action. 11 percent thought that the industrial sector was doing enough, and 27 percent of the respondents were of the opinion that citizens were doing enough to protect the environment.
With the exception of environmental organisations, it emerged that people were very dissatisfied with the commitment to environmental protection of the relevant actors. Although satisfaction even with environmental organisations had declined by ten percentage points since 2016, 70 percent of the respondents in 2019 – so a clear majority as in the previous years - still maintained that environmental organisations were doing enough for environmental protection and climate action.

Regular representative surveys on the environmental awareness of the German population

In May 2018, the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), together with the German Environment Agency (UBA), published the results of its twelfth representative survey on environmental awareness in Germany. Every two years since 1996, data on attitudes and conduct in relation to environmental issues have been collected and placed in the context of societal developments. These data form an important basis for the development of environmental policy and communication. For the representative survey, two cohorts of roughly 2000 respondents each were questioned, and a pretest involving 500 participants was carried out. The survey took the form of a standardised online questionnaire administered by the Forsa field institute.
For 2019, an additional intermediate survey including key time-series questions was carried out with a representative sample of about 2000 people.
A measuring instrument was developed in the context of the 2018 environmental awareness study which maps three central dimensions of environmental awareness: emotions regarding the environment, environmental cognition and conduct with regard to the environment — in other words, emotional involvement, rational assessment and action. This measuring instrument will make it possible in future to express environmental awareness in compact key figures and to survey in a standardised manner.