Overline: Social Sustainability Barometer
Headline: How Is the Energy Crisis Affecting Public Opinion on the Energy and Transport Transitions in Germany?

Is the current energy crisis putting the brakes on climate action? Undaunted by the growing financial burden, support for the energy transition remains strong in Germany. Indeed, despite the spectre of skyrocketing energy prices, a broad section of the public wants to see the government double down on its efforts to achieve climate neutrality. This is the conclusion of the “Social Sustainability Barometer 2022”, a representative nationwide survey of 6,500 people on the energy and transport transitions in Germany. The survey, which also explores public opinion around the energy crisis and climate action, was conducted under the Ariadne research project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Title page Social Sustainability Barometer 2022

Social Sustainability Barometer highlights support for energy transition

Not only has the energy crisis triggered by Russia's attack on Ukraine imposed substantial financial burdens on households in Germany, at times efforts to protect the climate seem to be taking a back seat in discussions about the possibility of extending the operational lifetimes of coal-fired and nuclear power plants. Data published in the Social Sustainability Barometer, which was prepared by a team of researchers from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in collaboration with forsa, show that public approval of the energy and transport transitions continues to grow in Germany despite rising prices and uncertainties: 70 per cent of the people surveyed are in favour of expanding renewable energy generation and accelerating the renewables build-out by simplifying planning law in order to strengthen energy security in Germany.

"Two-thirds of the people surveyed would like to see greater and more targeted measures for climate protection," IASS researcher Ingo Wolf notes. “At the same time, rising energy prices are increasingly pushing people to their financial limits. The findings of the Social Sustainability Barometer highlight the challenges that people in Germany are facing against the backdrop of the current energy crisis and the measures they expect policymakers to pursue."

The transport transition – more and faster?

A comparison with the results from last year's survey also shows that interest in the transport transition has risen slightly from 73 percent to 79 percent and people are increasingly keen to play an active role in this transformation. However, many are feeling the pinch of higher mobility costs and patience with policymakers is wearing thin: Over 60 per cent of respondents reported that they are dissatisfied with progress in the transport transition (2021: 55 per cent). The number of people who feel that the proposed measures are unlikely to deliver sufficient progress has almost doubled from 23 per cent in 2021 to 40 per cent this year.

Energy burdens must be shared equitably

Rising energy costs have made depth of the current crisis all too clear for respondents: While 28 per cent felt that heating costs were a financial burden in 2021, the figure has leapt to 43 per cent this year. The proportion of people who hope that renewables could make energy more affordable has risen to 35 per cent (2021: 26 per cent). Half of the respondents are in favour of offsetting eventual rises in the price of CO2 by providing financial relief to low-income households. Just over a third of respondents favoured the lump-sum recycling of carbon revenues to citizens. At the same time, a clear majority (62 per cent) expressed little to no confidence that policymakers would redistribute revenues from carbon pricing to households.

"Despite the current overlapping crises, policymakers must not backtrack on their climate commitments," warns Ortwin Renn of the IASS. “Instead, rather than playing crises off against each other, lawmakers should read the findings of the Social Sustainability Barometer as a sign that citizens view energy sovereignty and climate protection as interdependent public goods, and their policies should reflect this.”

IASS researchers on the results:

Co-author Jean-Henri Huttarsch of the IASS: “These findings leave me feeling more hopeful than many of the other reports that I read. There is an urgent need for more measures to advance the energy and transport transitions, and citizens are ready to back them as long as their costs and benefits are fairly distributed – and understandably so."

Co-author Benita Ebersbach of the IASS: "The results show that there is widespread support among the population for the major transformation processes of our time. What we have to do now is translate that support into real and consistent action. The Social Sustainability Barometer offers us important insights into which measures people are more likely to back and which beliefs are shared across the population."

What is the Social Sustainability Barometer?

Published by the Kopernikus project Ariadne, the “Social Sustainability Barometer of the Energy and Transport Transitions” offers insights into the social dimensions of these transformation processes. Based on a nationally representative online panel survey, the barometer gauges the attitudes, concerns and assessments of people in Germany in relation to the planning and implementation of the energy and transport transitions. The survey is conducted annually and will initially run over three years, enabling researchers to track trends in public opinion and link these to specific policies or events. The resulting detailed record of the sociodemographic, psychological and behavioural characteristics of over 6,500 participants annually will also make it possible to consider a wide range of sociological correlations.

The first survey took place in the first quarter of 2021. The second field phase was completed in April 2022, shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the third wave is scheduled for the first quarter in 2023. The results will be used to support policy development and priority setting.

The results of the 2022 survey wave have now been published in a brochure (in German) and are also available online in an interactive data explorer. A variety of significant social and political events have occurred since the last survey in 2021, and their impact on people's attitudes is also examined in the study. The data explorer enables users to discover how various factors shape public opinion around the energy and transport transitions: How has the current energy crisis shaped attitudes towards the energy and transport transitions? Against the backdrop of rising energy costs, what do citizens expect from policymakers? How do citizens rate the goals and measures proposed by the new federal government?

Tackling the social dimension of sustainability

The expansion of clean energy and mobility technologies is leading to fundamental changes in everyday life. For the energy and transport transitions to succeed, it will be crucial to take into account the social goals of sustainable development such as equity, participation, and social cohesion. The notion of social sustainability offers a positive guiding principle for efforts to shape transformation processes and aims to align energy and transport transitions with the ideas, needs and values of citizens, ensuring that measures are equitable and fair.

The Social Sustainability Barometer of the Energy and Transport Transitions explores the social dimensions of these transformations from the perspective of citizens in Germany and traces recent trends in public opinion. What do citizens think about the energy and transport transitions and how they have been handled? What do citizens feel should be done to deliver just transitions? What problems and challenges do citizens see in the implementation of transformation processes? Under what circumstances would citizens contribute to these transformation processes?

The survey is embedded in a broader dialogue process facilitated by the Ariadne project. The views, values and experiences related to energy and transport policy issues expressed by citizens in focus groups are incorporated into the Social Sustainability Barometer. Ariadne subsequently draws on these findings in the development of future policy solutions for the electricity and transport transitions.