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‘Future-oriented climate policy should include families’ – study on intergenerational justice and climate change

Green Families


The new study ‘Green Family - Generational Justice in Climate Change’ sheds light on the role of German families in adapting to and mitigating climate change. The authors are scientists at the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital (IIASA, ÖAW, University of Vienna), one of the leading research centres on the interface between environmental and population development. The study was created in cooperation with Population Europe and funded by the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth.

‘Assuming that most parents consider the wellbeing of their children when looking into the future, and thus should have a longer planning horizon than non-parents, there is hardly a social group as likely to care as much about limiting climate change as parents. Not taking parents on board in tackling climate change neglects a huge opportunity, says lead author Erich Striessnig.


Differentiation instead of ‘One Size Fits All’ measures

Population groups vary in their influence on the environment and climate, and in their vulnerability to the consequences of climate change. Some important dimensions of heterogeneity include age, income, place of residence and level of education. Policy measures must take them into account; a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution will not do justice to these important differences.

Families are more mobile than other parts of the population (e.g., driving children to school, grandparents or to the doctor), but Germany’s public transport has not adapted to their needs – especially in rural areas. Inadequate public transport options often push young people to automatically become car users/owners when their first child arrives. Families also have higher overall energy needs than other groups within society, which means they face greater financial burdens from price increases when environmental costs are built into the cost of consumer goods and energy.


Families as ‘change agents’

These burdens are especially true for low-income families in Germany: Although they have relatively small carbon footprints, for example, because they live in smaller flats and rarely take long-distance vacations, they are disproportionately affected by climate change. Likewise, they are disproportionately affected by policy measures that affect their disposable income and, hence, ability to take up adaptive measures. Additionally, they often live in densely populated cities where the burden of heat and pollutants is particularly high.

Despite these challenges, families could serve as particularly important ‘change agents’ for tackling the climate crisis. ‘For the most part, values and lifestyles are shaped within families’, says Andreas Edel, Executive Secretary of Population Europe. ‘That is why it is so important to better understand their sociodemographic characteristics and how they will change over time (e.g., in view of population ageing). Solid evidence about population diversity is important for decision-makers if they want to empower families to adopt environmentally friendly behaviours, not leaving those which are utmost vulnerable behind.’


Further information

The study (in German) can be downloaded here.

The accompanying policy brief can be downloaded here.



Dr Andreas Edel, Executive Secretary, Population Europe / Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research,, 0049 160 907 68 444

Prof Erich Striessnig Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital (IIASA, ÖAW, University of Vienna),