It is a common belief that more information about climate change will lead to a better understanding of the phenomenon and to an increase of prevention measures, such as insurance for natural hazards. To test this hypothesis, two independent surveys in Germany were conducted. The survey by the research team of KIT was based on an internet questionnaire and a sample of 510 respondents from all regions and socio-economic groups in Germany. The other survey (by researchers of ZEW) was conducted with 157 respondents which were personally present at the premises of the research institute in Mannheim. The main objective of the analyses was to check the correlations and interactions between knowledge about climate change, scientific information about the phenomenon and the risk perception of climate-induced hazards. Furthermore the links between risk perception and prevention measures were analysed. We found that respondents who revealed a better actual knowledge in questions about climate change perceived climate change impacts as less hazardous than those with weaker knowledge. The impact of actual knowledge is opposed to the effect of the self-declared knowledge of the respondents. Respondents who declared their own level of information about climate change as being rather high showed a higher degree of risk perception of climate change than those who ascribed themselves a lower level of information. Overall, in both surveys independently from each other we identified certain factors determining risk perception. These are: gender (female respondents exhibited higher risk perception), experience of damages through extreme weather events (experience implies higher risk perception), and actual knowledge about climate change (better knowledge implies lower risk perception). Surprisingly, the provision of scientific information about expected climate change impacts showed no significant effect on the risk perception. Furthermore we found a positive effect of risk perception of climate change on the willingness to insure and a significant influence of experience with damages through extreme weather events on insurance coverage. Since information about the consequences of climate change does not lead to increased risk perception, we doubt the efficiency of large-scale public information campaigns. Given the broad coverage of the topic in mass media with partly quite drastic pictures and messages, scientifically grounded information may not enhance the awareness that climate change can impact everybody and that it is time to take action on a personal level.
Menny, Claas, Daniel Osberghaus, Max Pohl and Ute Werner (2011), General Knowledge About Climate Change, Factors Influencing Risk Perception and Willingness to Insure, ZEW Discussion Paper No. 11-060, Mannheim. Download