In recent days, Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled that some parts of Germany’s 2019 climate law are unconstitutional for including insufficient measures to protect future generations, and the Government has subsequently decided to bring forward its climate goals. Amid this context, the environment is shaping up to be one of the key issues of this year’s German Federal Election, set to be held on 26 September 2021.
In the latest research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies, we looked at the German public’s views on this topical issue. We observe a high degree of environmental concern across German society as a whole, but also note particularly high levels of support for environmentally friendly policies among older respondents.
Overall, our research shows that climate change is a matter of serious concern to the German public: a majority (55%) of the German public perceive climate change as a direct threat to the country, with less than a fifth (18%) of respondents saying they do not see it as a direct threat.
Interestingly, the youngest age group polled (18 to 24) had the lowest proportion (39%) of respondents supporting the view that climate change poses a direct threat to Germany, while the oldest age group polled (65 and older) had the highest proportion (63%) of respondents seeing climate change as a direct threat to Germany.
While these results do not preclude the possibility of younger people seeing climate change as a threat globally (rather than to Germany specifically), our findings do appear to counter the common assumption that older people are less alarmed by climate change than younger people, a belief that is founded on the idea that the young are ultimately more likely to eventually experience the consequences of climate change first-hand. At the same time, it is interesting to note that German respondents are less likely to agree that climate change is a direct threat to Germany now (55%) compared to when we last asked this question one year ago (65%).
In line with the general assessment of climate change as a threat to Germany, a majority (51%) of respondents agree that protecting the environment should be given priority, even if this is detrimental to the economy.
Again, there is slightly less support now for prioritising environmental protection over the economy than there was one year ago (51% now, compared to 57% in June 2020). This change could be due to the public attaching more importance to dealing with the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis in the immediate future.
Moreover, 54% of the German public say they could not vote for a leader who has demonstrated scepticism towards climate change in the past, compared to only 20% who say they could. 26% say they don’t know. Again, these figures underscore the importance that German voters attach to an environmentally aware political platform.
When asked about the current German Government’s efforts to address climate change, 38% approve and 26% disapprove, with an additional 31% neither approving nor disapproving.
Interestingly, dissatisfaction with the Germen Government’s current environmental efforts again increases with respondents’ age. As such, disapproval is lowest among those aged 18 to 24 (15%) and highest among those aged 65 and older (33%). These results thus add an additional layer of insights to news reporting that mainly focuses on young people’s demands for more ambitious emission reduction targets and other measures to limit the effects of climate change.
Moreover, our research shows that the Government’s push towards renewable energy sources enjoys the support of the public, with a majority of 57% saying they approve of the policy of Energiewende. Only 15% say they disapprove, while 23% of respondents say neither approve nor disapprove, and a further 6% say they don’t know.
Again, we observe an interesting generational difference: 69% of those aged 65 and over approve, compared to a still significant but noticeably lower 42% of 18-to-24-year-olds.
We also asked the German public about their attitudes towards specific energy policies.
A majority of 54% say they are in favour of phasing out nuclear power plants in Germany, compared to only a fifth (20%) of respondents who disapprove. A further fifth (21%) say they neither approve nor disapprove. In terms of age groups, 40% of those aged 18 to 24 and 62% of those aged 65 and over support the phasing out of nuclear plants in Germany.
The construction of wind turbines also enjoys significant support among the German public: two thirds (62%) of respondents say they approve of the construction of wind turbines in Germany, with only 15% saying they are opposed, and a further 18% saying they don’t know. While support for wind power is strong across all age groups, the 65+ age group, at 72%, again shows the strongest support.
Moreover, we asked the German public about their views on the contentious Nord Stream gas pipelines connecting Russia to Germany. As a matter that combines energy policy and geopolitics, these pipelines have attracted extensive international criticism, most notably from the United States. In spite of this criticism, a plurality of German respondents (43%) say they approve of the construction of the Nord Stream pipelines. Only a fifth (19%) explicitly disapproves, although a significant 29% they don’t know.
At the same time, a generational divide is again apparent: while only 28% of 18-to-24-year-old respondents approve of the construction of the Nord Stream gas pipelines, this proportion rises to 46% of 55-to-64-year-olds and 57% of those aged 65 and over.
Lastly, when asked to assess Germany’s environmental record in comparison to other countries in Europe, 38% of German respondents believe that Germany is more environmentally friendly than other European countries, whereas 34% believe the country is just as environmentally friendly as other countries. Only 14% of respondents think Germany is less environmentally friendly than other European countries, but 15% of respondents say they don’t know.
These latest insights show that concern about environmental protection and climate change is widespread among German voters, lending support to the idea that these issues are likely to rank high on the political agenda in the context of the upcoming Federal Elections. While policy measures intended to protect the environment and limit the impact of climate change enjoy significant support among all age groups in Germany, we find that this strong support is particularly apparent among older respondents. Our latest findings thus indicate that environmentalism as an issue area attracts more cross-generational concern than might be assumed.