It was a bitter defeat that the German climate protection movement had to take last Sunday: With considerable effort, which also had a public impact, they organized a referendum in Berlin on whether the capital should become climate-neutral by 2030 and not, as previously planned, by 2045. The initiators, the “Klimaneustart” alliance, would have had to get a little over 600,000 votes for the previous climate neutrality to become law in the city.
A bitter defeat
But in the end there were just 442,000 Berliners who liked the idea. Worse for the activists, almost as many people, about 423,000, voted no. The organizers themselves had expected that these skeptics would rather not vote at all than bother to go to the polling station. Climate neutrality means that no climate-damaging gases are emitted beyond those that are absorbed by nature. The emissions from cars with combustion engines, heaters and airplanes must therefore be reduced by around 95 percent compared to 1990. Germany as a whole has the goal of becoming climate neutral by 2045, the European Union by 2050.
The frustration among climate activists was correspondingly high after the defeat in the referendum. The best-known spokeswoman for the climate protection movement “FridaysforFuture”, Luisa Neubauer, said: “We won’t let the critics and whiners stop us.”
Fewer and fewer believe in the energy transition
What’s the matter with the Germans? In almost every survey, people emphasize the importance of climate protection. But when the demand is backed up with concrete steps, people hesitate. And they trust less and less the promises made by politicians that climate protection is really being taken seriously. Only ten percent of those surveyed in a recent survey by the renowned Forsa Institute believe that the country’s energy needs can be completely covered by renewable energies. What is amazing is that far fewer people believe in the energy transition than twelve years ago. The same question showed that around 39 percent of those surveyed thought that Germany could very well supply itself with renewable energies alone.
Latif: “The pandemic and war are wearing people down”
For the climate researcher Mojib Latif, senior professor at the Christian Albrechts University in Kiel and President of the Academy of Sciences in Hamburg since January 2022, this is no wonder. In an interview with DW, he says: “Climate protection is no longer a priority for people at the moment. People are exhausted by the pandemic, the reports of war from Ukraine and the rising energy prices.”
And Latif draws a parallel to what happened 16 years ago. Back then, 2007, Former US Vice President and climate activist Al Gore and the UN Climate Change Council IPCC received the Nobel Peace Prize, climate protection was also on everyone’s lips in Germany. Then came the global financial crisis in 2008 and pushed the reduction of greenhouse gases out of the headlines. Latif: “We don’t win people over to climate protection just because they’re good people.” Current example: For many weeks, the plan of the German Economics and Climate Protection Minister Robert Habeck from the Greens caused uncertainty, to ban new gas and oil heating systems as early as next year. Now the government has toned down the draft and is talking about converting “as many heating systems as possible” to the climate-friendly but expensive heat pumps. Mojib Latif cites another example that is poorly communicated by politicians: a possible speed limit of 100 or 130 kilometers per hour on German autobahns. Latif: “For the most part, the speed limit on autobahns in Germany is only discussed from the point of view of the restrictions. How much energy is saved is hardly mentioned.”
Mohn: “Measures must be the same for everyone”
Carel Mohn, editor-in-chief of “klimafakten.de”, a platform that continuously provides information on climate issues, added in an interview with DW: “People first perceive in their personal and social environment that it corresponds to the social norm, for environmental protection, To be nature conservation and climate protection.People are guided by such norms, which is one explanation for the fact that corresponding statements in surveys are clearly supported.
There is a lot of uncertainty as to which heating systems will still be permitted in Germany in the future
But if politicians take specific measures, they have to be conveyed well and, above all, with a positive message.” Mohn continues: “People have to understand the meaning of the measures – which of course also means that they are communicated and explained in an understandable way. The measures should be practically implementable (or be perceived as such), the implementation effort should be reasonable. And the measures should apply to everyone and burden everyone equally and fairly.”
That was obviously not the case with Habeck’s heating plans. People felt that renters and small homeowners in particular could be left with the high cost of retrofitting. So, no matter how well-intentioned the politicians’ proposals may be, it remains a big problem how exactly people are taken on board when it comes to climate protection measures.