Germany Talks Climate provides an evidence-based toolkit designed to support any organisation that wants to engage the German public on climate change. It aims to promote the understanding of values-based climate communications and to contribute to a wider, solutions-oriented climate discourse in Germany.
Opinions on climate change in Germany are currently fragmented rather than polarised, and there is no empirical evidence that climate policy debates have contributed to a “split in society”. Nevertheless, there are clearly distinguishable views. Research shows that core beliefs and values play a crucial role in human behaviour and are reflected in the form of different perspectives on the issue of climate change. This toolkit is based on the insight that effective climate communications should not only convey facts and knowledge but that communicators can more effectively inspire and motivate their target audiences when they address their values and basic attitudes.
Together with klimafakten.de and More in Common Germany, Climate Outreach has developed an approach to test climate change narratives, images and messengers by analysing responses according to one of six groups or types identified in More in Common’s core beliefs model. We have compiled the findings in this toolkit as a guide for how to engage specific target groups, as well as offering advice to civil society, political and business groups. The project is funded by the Mercator Foundation and the European Climate Foundation.
A clearer understanding of the climate-related interests and concerns of certain groups will help communicators address these groups in a more targeted way. By connecting arguments to the way of thinking of the respective groups, it becomes easier to inspire and galvanise people in new ways, as well as to avoid the hardening of fronts and social conflicts. In order to cope with the major social changes we are facing due to climate change, we need broad social support. Therefore, it is necessary to involve everyone in a society-wide, solutions-oriented discourse on climate change. It is particularly important to involve groups that have not always been “green” and who tend to be sceptical about climate change.
Whether a politician or an NGO, a political party or a lobby organisation, a municipality or a state authority – whoever communicates on climate change should know that people in Germany are very concerned about the climate. They expect political action. There is overwhelming empirical evidence for this. But the empirical data also shows that people can be won over to ambitious climate action if this is linked to their ideas of a “good quality of life” and what constitutes good social order. It is therefore misguided to discredit values-based debates on climate change as “moralising”.
What is needed instead is to actively link the climate debate to values – in other words, to what is meaningful to different groups and to us as a society as a whole. In this way, citizens can recognise the individual and societal connections with regard to the climate crisis and see themselves as part of the solution. Highlighting opportunities for local action and strengthening the visibility of collective action can increase people’s confidence in the future and have a significant motivational influence.
Our approach focuses on positive visions of the future, as well as giving attention to the issues that citizens really care about. Our research indicates that tailored communications and public engagement initiatives have great potential to support long-term climate action in Germany.
Understanding the commonalities across German society
Germany Talks Climate has examined the hopes and concerns of the six values-based segments—also called types—in relation to climate change, and the following overarching commonalities emerge between them:
- A large proportion of people share a high level of concern about the climate crisis, as well as a sense of low self-efficacy or agency in the face of it. Germans already know that the climate crisis is real and that humans are causing it. None of the six types is characterised by a majority of strong scepticism about the climate crisis. All of them tend to agree that we are already feeling the effects of the climate crisis in Germany and that the climate crisis requires a global (and not just national) response.
- Affordability and social justice are the most important aspects to people from all segments in regard to climate policy. A majority believes that contributions to climate action should be adjusted to the respective income, i.e. that wealthy people should contribute more to climate action than those on lower incomes.
- Certain values and ideas are supported by all types. The majority of types are of the opinion that all of society’s stakeholders (politicians, businesses and the general public) must pull together for climate change. People also want to see the restoration of the balance between humans and nature and a mixture of regulations for the economy on the one hand and personal responsibility and incentives for the population on the other. Physical health is also an issue that many people link to the climate crisis and that concerns them.
- A lack of positive visions of the future and little visibility of collective action or success stories reinforce the overriding feelings of helplessness, disappointment and anger. At the same time, we see a general agreement that in principle a number of climate change measures (such as existing bans, subsidies, incentives and even higher taxation of some products) are moves in the right direction. The majority of people do not perceive any significant progress on climate action so far.
- The message that climate change action can trigger positive feelings resonates broadly. The recognition of co-benefits (i.e. the positive side-effects of climate measures in other areas), such as better quality of life in cities, is also acknowledged by all types.
Why Germany Talks Climate
Humanity already has the scientific, technical and political means to tackle the climate crisis. What is currently lacking is the imagination, the confidence in a successful transition and the support of society as a whole to influence political will toward ambitious climate action.
Developing narratives about the climate crisis and climate action that are consistent with a wide range of values and attitudes is critical to the long-term goal of deepening personal connection and collective action. People understand the climate crisis through stories that feel “right” – narratives that are consistent with their values and their identities, told by people they trust and validated by the social norms around them.
An explicit goal of Germany Talks Climate is to involve those social groups that have so far tended to identify less with climate issues or who feel excluded or even alienated by climate policy debates. The project builds on two foundations: first, the existing knowledge and resources of klimafakten.de, and second the segmentation of the German population into six societal types along deep-seated beliefs, developed by More in Common Germany.
Thee German-language toolkit serves as an inspiration for practical work. The recommendations can be applied in different ways. The Germany Talks Climate research is designed to facilitate the involvement of more parts of society in the climate debate and the linking of the topic of climate change with their respective values, interests, visions of the future and concerns. For effective climate communications, demographic factors such as age or gender are not the only ones that need to be taken into account.
Our findings and recommendations are primarily aimed at people from civil society who communicate on climate issues in their work context or on a voluntary basis. Climate communications in civil society refers to both the internal and external function of civil society organisations. On the one hand, civil society is a place where collective action is organised; climate communications in this sense focus on the existing base or potential members. On the other hand, civil society actors also form a bridge between civil society and government in order to represent the interests of their members. Climate communications in this case are thus concerned with communication between representatives of civil society organisations and those of the political and administrative spheres, and bring the climate-related views and opinions of their members to the attention of decision-makers. We hope that our recommendations will enrich both functions of civil society’s work.
Furthermore, our findings are also relevant for people working in politics, public administration or the private sector, and can support climate communications in these sectors. In cases where our recommendations are specifically addressed to decision-makers in politics or business, they are explicitly mentioned in the text.
Ideally, values-based communications that focus on what is important to the target group will make the target group feel valued, taken seriously and the reality of their lives understood. In this way, we as climate communicators provide the necessary social support for transformative climate protection measures through our expert and target group-oriented approaches to involving larger parts of the population.
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