From climate literacy to climate action

Exiting the COVID-19 crisis, the world faced soaring inflation, the war in Ukraine, energy crisis, food crisis, supply chain unreliability, increasing political instability, and looming recession. All of this is happening against the backdrop of the very tangible effects of climate change. This year’s UN climate change conference, or COP27 as it is known, will be held in Egypt from Nov 6-18. Faced with a growing energy crisis, record greenhouse gas concentrations, and increasing extreme weather events, COP27 seeks renewed solidarity between countries, to deliver on the landmark Paris Agreement, for both the people and the planet.    

UN’s COP27 climate conference offers a great opportunity to ask: how can we make people realize that climate change represents an imminent threat to their livelihoods and environments? How do we make people care enough to act? What actions lead to change? Thinking about climate change has always been challenging because it makes us grapple with systemic causation, i.e. connections that might, on the first glance, appear to be disconnected, like the link between severe blizzards and global warming, for example.

Because climate change is a systemic issue that involves a lot of different aspects and layers of interconnected problems (economic, natural, societal, behavioral), we tend to get easily lost in the jungle of problems ending up confused or worse—indifferent.

To illustrate the systemic and causal nature of climate change, just think of the key figure cited in the fight against climate change—the 1.5 °C target. Stipulated in the Paris Agreement in 2015 and adopted at COP21, it states that global warming has to be limited to 1.5°C if we want to secure a livable future on Earth. But what does the 1.5°C target really mean?

The lack of awareness about climate change is also visible in a sobering reality check on the state of climate literacy in Germany, France, Italy, Great Britain, and the U.S., according to a report published by Allianz Research, which reveals that only 14.2 percent of respondents proved to be truly climate literate, i.e. they were able to answer seven or more of a total of ten questions on climate correctly.

German and French respondents showed the highest level of climate literacy: 16.4 percent and 20.5 percent respectively are highly climate literate. Overall, however, the results in the four European countries are quite similar. The U.S. is the major exception. The proportion of those with only very low climate literacy is almost twice as high as in Europe, reaching 56.3 percent. 

Somewhat more encouraging are the responses regarding the effects of climate change. Two-thirds of respondents are aware that a temperature increase of two degrees or more would have catastrophic consequences for nature and people. Even in the U.S. the majority of respondents are convinced of the fatal consequences of climate change. However, more shockingly, 31.2 percent of Americans also believe that humans and nature can adapt to rising temperatures without major problems.

Given such views, only 12.2 percent of respondents are aware of the enormous time pressure that climate policy is under. Even in France—the country with the highest proportion of respondents with high climate literacy—more participants (12.8%) are convinced that we can carry on like this for another 30 years before the world reaches its climatic limits. In fact, however, the right answer is just seven years.  

One of the most interesting findings in the survey reveals there might be a link between our willingness to act and our level of climate literacy. Simply put, the more knowledgeable we are about climate issues, the more willing we are to make personal efforts in reducing our carbon footprints. In contrast, among respondents with only low climate literacy, 13.4 percent are not actively green.

Among the age groups, older generations seem to be actively combating climate change in their lives, while Gen-Z, surprisingly, turned out to be least climate active (8.2%) age group. The survey also revealed that high climate literacy seems to go hand in hand with the expectation that the necessary transformation will also pay off economically.

While it might be true that the more you know about climate change the more anxious you feel, it is also true that this knowledge can be the driving force for personal action.

We can tweak our personal actions within a wide range of areas in our lives. UN has compiled a simple and effective list that affects not just the way we travel, but also the electricity we use, the food we eat, and the things we buy. 

Most of us have cars that require maintenance and sometimes even repairs. Do you usually just replace the damaged parts with new ones or do you opt for a repair? Did you know that the more frequently you repair your car instead of using new components, the less CO2 your car emits? Here’s how it works.
When we begin to understand the systemic nature of climate change and how everything is interconnected but might not be directly visible to us, we might begin to see all our personal efforts as a necessary step forward. Only if a sufficiently large majority has a positive connotation of the green transformation will they also be willing to tackle the necessary changes actively and personally.
“These results prove that climate literacy has tangible consequences,” said Arne Holzhausen, co-author of the report. “Promoting climate literacy is creating hope for a world where citizens understand the issues we are facing and are actively involved in reshaping the future of our societies and economies. Ultimately, what we would strive for with climate literacy is to create a behavioral change. Because climate policy is not just a technological problem, but begins with each individual.”
The Allianz Group is one of the world's leading insurers and asset managers with around 125 million* private and corporate customers in nearly 70 countries. Allianz customers benefit from a broad range of personal and corporate insurance services, ranging from property, life and health insurance to assistance services to credit insurance and global business insurance. Allianz is one of the world’s largest investors, managing around 746 billion euros** on behalf of its insurance customers. Furthermore, our asset managers PIMCO and Allianz Global Investors manage about 1.8 trillion euros** of third-party assets. Thanks to our systematic integration of ecological and social criteria in our business processes and investment decisions, we are among the leaders in the insurance industry in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. In 2023, over 157,000 employees achieved total business volume of 161.7 billion euros and an operating profit of 14.7 billion euros for the group.
* Including non-consolidated entities with Allianz customers.
** As of March 31, 2024.
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