GLEN – a large scale panel study for the environmental social science research

March 21, 2024

This is only one of the key social questions the new long-term project will provide answers to. A new long-term project will provide answers to key social questions such as: What factors change environmental attitudes and behaviors? What are the social consequences between sound environmental policies or the lack thereof? Funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), the long-term project will provide data for a wide range of research questions in all social science disciplines. The results produced with GLEN data will ultimately form the basis for evidence-based policy advice.

What are the dynamics behind the acceptance of environmental initiatives and protests regarding climate policies? This is only one of the key social questions the new long-term project will provide answers to. Climate protest, Munich, March 2023.

© Lorenz Mehrlich / SZ-Photo / picture alliance

The goal of making the economy and society more environmentally sustainable and carbon neutral poses major challenges for politics, business, and the general population. What do people think about it? A new long-term project will provide answers to key social questions such as: What factors change environmental attitudes and behaviors? What are the dynamics behind the acceptance of environmental initiatives and protests regarding climate policies? How do climate policies influence household CO2 emissions? Which social groups are affected in particular? What are the social consequences between sound environmental policies or the lack thereof? How do environmental conditions in neighborhoods – such as noise and air pollution, transport infrastructure and green spaces – affect environmental awareness and action? Are there structural conditions that facilitate climate-friendly actions, and what role do sociodemographic differences play?

In a joint project, scientists from LMU Munich, the University of Kaiserslautern-Landau (RPTU), and Leipzig University are launching the first ever longitudinal study on this topic in Germany, which will create a new data base for social science research on environmental and climate issues. Funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), the long-term project will provide data for a wide range of research questions in all social science disciplines. The German Longitudinal Environmental Study (GLEN) has received initial funding of almost six million euros for a period of three years. Over the envisaged twelve years of the project, it is expected to receive a total funding of around 20 million euro.

High-quality longitudinal data

“This task requires excellent data. By providing a better understanding of human behavior, social sciences provide pivotal impulses for research in climate sciences,” explains Prof. Katrin Auspurg, principal investigator at LMU. “To answer various questions, not only macro data on re-distributive effects, but also trend and panel data on public attitudes and behavior are key.”

Only by surveying the same people over an extended period of time it can be measured how inequalities, environmental awareness and action, potential polarization, and protest behavior change in the population over time. “Without focusing on human behavior there are no clear evaluations of success rates, social consequences, and distributional effects of climate and environmental policies,” says Prof. Henning Best, principal investigator at RPTU.

High data quality and innovative methods are key to answering these and many other research questions. “The call for high-quality individual data has been loud and clear in environmental social science research,” says Dr. Christiane Bozoyan, principal investigator and coordinator of the project at the LMU Munich.

With panel waves every six months over twelve years, GLEN is a survey of the German population aged 18 and older, with a master sample of more than 20,000 people. The comprehensive questionnaire is combined with experimental methods and complemented with regional data. In addition, the project includes GLEN+ studies for collaborations with local actors such as municipalities and regions: By supplementing the GLEN data with their own local samples they are able to compare the local population against a national benchmark. In addition, collaborations are planned with partners from academia and public administration to develop experimental research.

The results produced with GLEN data will ultimately form the basis for evidence-based policy advice. “GLEN and the GLEN+ projects facilitate a comprehensive and critical scientific evaluation of various policies. In particular, the panel will provide answers to questions such as how climate policies affect household CO2 emissions and which social groups are most impacted,” explains Prof. Andreas Diekmann, principal investigators at Leipzig University.

Work and research focuses at three project locations

Prof. Henning Best is the principal investigator at RPTU Kaiserslautern. His research group is responsible for preparing GLEN regional data and operating the Safe Data Center, which allows scientists to analyze sensitive data in compliance with data protection regulations. In their research, the RPTU team will focus on climate skepticism, political protest, and geographical and social inequalities in the consequences of climate change.

Three principal investigators are located at LMU Munich: Prof. Katrin Auspurg is responsible for research on the acceptance of environmental and climate policies and for the methodological supervision of experiments, to investigate, for instance, the acceptance of carbon taxes depending on the specific implementation and revenue recycling to different population groups. Dr. Christiane Bozoyan and Dr. Claudia Schmiedeberg will manage and coordinating the research data center with the operations team, which will carry out the collection and preparation of data. Two of their principal research focuses will be on the development of environmental attitudes over the life course and the relationships between environment and health.

Prof. Andreas Diekmann is principal investigator at Leipzig University. The team in Leipzig will be responsible for calculating the respondents’ carbon footprints and researching the individual and structural factors that influence individuals’ greenhouse gas emissions.

With the support of an interdisciplinary academic advisory council, the project will gain perspectives from the domains of sociology, economics, psychology, communications, health science, and other social sciences. Moreover, there will be regular opportunities for scientists outside the GLEN team to realize their own research ideas within the framework of open modules. „With its large sample size and the broad, interdisciplinary range of environmental topics covered GLEN will be worldwide unique,” says Dr. Claudia Schmiedeberg, principal investigator and coordinator at LMU. With release of the first wave in 2026, the data will be made available to the scientific public.