Why behavioural research plays an important role in climate protection

Erfurt / Hamburg, Germany, 17 November 2022 - How can climate protection measures be planned from the human perspective and effectively accompanied in terms of communication? Dr Mirjam Jenny and Prof. Dr 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 yesterday in the journals "Nature Human Behaviour" and "Nature Climate Change" under the title "Human behaviour and climate change". In it, they outline the necessary scientific and political framework.

Two hands are clasped and intertwined. They are painted with a motif of the earth seen from above. Blue sea and continents are visible.
@iStock / Yuri_Arcurs

The COVID 19 pandemic has required people to change their behaviour to protect their own health and that of others. Currently, the energy price crisis 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 profound systemic and behavioural changes. Politics and public administration are faced with the task of creating effective political framework conditions 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, behavioural science findings could support decision-makers in making climate policy measures more effective.

Moreover, successful implementation of climate and environmental protection would also have a positive effect on the global health of animals and humans. This One Health idea is being pursued at the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg by a group led by Professor Cornelia Betsch from Erfurt, who is also head of the BNITM working group on health communication.

Portrait photo of Prof. Cornelia Betsch. A woman with shoulder-length brown hair and glasses is sitting under a tree with a very friendly smile. She is wearing an olive-green-grey suit with a white shirt underneath.
Prof. Cornelia Betsch, group leader at the University of Erfurt and at the BNITM.
©Marco Borggreve
A portrait photo of a young woman with long red hair smiling friendly. She is wearing a dark blazer.
Dr Mirjam Jenny, decision researcher in Betsch's group.

For this to succeed, she says, science must collect reliable behavioural data that provide a clear picture of public perception and climate action.

"However, this requires that governments ensure the infrastructure for such data collection," says Mirjam Jenny.

Furthermore, climate protection measures must grow out of a climate policy that takes into account behavioural science perspectives and is accompanied by clever communication. Only in this way can these measures become meaningfully effective.

Against this background, behavioural research in particular is increasingly in demand internationally, explains psychologist Cornelia Betsch. "At the latest since this year, trend-setting international bodies 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 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have been recommending that policy-making and communication be improved with behavioural science findings."

The two scientists agree: "Only climate and health policies that understand human behaviour can effectively change behaviour through wisely set frameworks." Accompanying communication campaigns can help increase public support and mitigate the negative consequences of new and unfamiliar - perhaps unpopular - policies. "However, this requires structures that systematise and institutionalise the collection and use of behavioural data of various kinds. Because knowledge about climate protection behaviour can only have a positive impact if policy-makers use it and it reaches people."

Link to the article in „Nature Human Behaviour“:
Link to the article collection: 

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Dr Mirjam Jenny
Entscheidungsforscherin & Wissenschaftskommunikatorin Uni Erfurt / BNITM

Dr Eleonora Schönherr, Julia Rauner
Presse- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit BNITM
Tel.: 040 285380-264 / -269

Carmen Voigt
Leiterin Hochschulkommunikation Uni Erfurt
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Über das Bernhard-Nocht-Institut für Tropenmedizin

Das Bernhard-Nocht-Institut für Tropenmedizin (BNITM) ist Deutschlands größte Einrichtung für Forschung, Versorgung und Lehre auf dem Gebiet tropentypischer und neu auftretender Infektionskrankheiten und ein Mitglied der Leibniz-Gemeinschaft. Aktuelle Forschungsschwerpunkte bilden Malaria, Wurminfektionen und andere Parasitosen sowie Erkrankungen durch Arboviren und hämorrhagische Fieberviren. Für den Umgang mit hochpathogenen Viren und infizierten Insekten verfügt das Institut über Laboratorien der höchsten biologischen Sicherheitsstufe (BSL4) und ein Sicherheits-Insektarium (BSL3). Das BNITM umfasst das nationale Referenzzentrum für den Nachweis aller tropischen Infektionserreger und das WHO-Kooperationszentrum für Arboviren und hämorrhagische Fieberviren. Gemeinsam mit dem ghanaischen Gesundheitsministerium und der Universität von Kumasi betreibt es ein modernes Forschungs- und Ausbildungszentrum im westafrikanischen Regenwald, das auch externen Arbeitsgruppen zur Verfügung steht. Darüber hinaus pflegt das Institut zahlreiche weitere Kooperationen u.a. in anderen afrikanischen Ländern wie in Gabun, Nigeria, Tansania und Madagaskar.

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