| Erfurt Laboratory for Empirical Research, Institute for Planetary Health Behaviour, Faculty of Philosophy, Education, School, and Behaviour, Research

Why behavioural research plays an important role in climate protection

How can climate protection measures be planned from the human perspective and effectively accompanied by communication? Dr Mirjam Jenny and Professor Cornelia Betsch from the University of Erfurt and the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine answer this question in a contribution to the collection of articles published today in the scientific journals "Nature Human Behaviour" and "Nature Climate Change" under the title "Human behavior and climate change". In it, they outline the necessary scientific and political framework.

The COVID 19 pandemic has required people to change their behavior to protect their own health and that of others. Currently, the energy price crisis now requires citizens and industry to save as much gas and electricity as possible. To overcome such crises, a society is needed that is willing to accept far-reaching system and behavioral changes. Politicians and public administrators are faced with the task of creating effective political frameworks for climate and environmental protection.

"Climate and environmental protection measures are only effective to a limited extent if they are inadequately explained, if public support is lacking, or if they present citizens* with particular hurdles," explains Dr Mirjam Jenny. However, behavioral science findings could help decision-makers to make climate policy measures more effective. Moreover, successful implementation of climate and environmental protection would also have a positive effect on the global health of humans and animals. This One Health idea is being pursued at the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine (BNITM) in Hamburg, among other places, by the group led by the Erfurt psychologist Cornelia Betsch, who is also head of the health communication working group there.

For this to succeed, she said, science must collect reliable behavioral data that provide a clear picture of public perception and climate action. "But this requires governments to ensure the infrastructure for such data collection," says Mirjam Jenny. In addition, climate protection measures must grow out of a climate policy that takes behavioral science perspectives into account and is wisely accompanied in terms of communication. This is the only way to make these measures meaningfully effective.

Against this background, behavioral research in particular is increasingly in demand internationally, explains Cornelia Betsch. "Since this year at the latest, trend-setting international committees such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations (UN), the National Academies of Sciences of the G7 countries, WHO Europe, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have been recommending that policy action design and communication be improved with behavioral science findings."

The two Erfurt scientists agree: "Only climate and health policies that understand human behavior can effectively change behavior through wisely set frameworks." Accompanying communication campaigns can help increase public support and mitigate the negative consequences of new and unfamiliar - perhaps unpopular - measures. "However, this requires structures that systematize the collection and use of behavioral data of various kinds and institutionalize its use. After all, knowledge about climate protection behavior can only have a positive effect if policymakers use it and it reaches people."

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