The transition to clean energy and transport systems as a challenge for social science research


The creation of clean energy and transport systems is not only a complex technical challenge, but also a long-term social project. Its outcome and effects are still completely unknown. Particularly in the transport sector, it is obvious that existing political and legal framework conditions and prevailing user preferences are in conflict with any fundamental changes. At the same time, there is an urgent need to find ways towards a mobility future without fossil fuels in order to protect our climate, preserve human health, achieve global justice, and retain economic competitiveness.

The German federal government’s "Climate Protection Plan 2050" , which aims to reduce traffic-related C02-emissions by at least 40 percent by the year 2030 compared to 1990, cannot be achieved solely through technical innovations and rising efficiency. Instead, it will require significant changes to regulatory frameworks, individual behavioral routines and social practices. Against this backdrop, our project investigates the following main questions:

  • Currently, there is a lack of systematic insights into how to trigger behavioral change in the transport sector: How flexible are transport users today, to what extent and under what circumstances are changes to their choices of transport conceivable, and how can behavioral changes be supported?
  • There is also a lack knowledge of and concepts for implementing changes into the transport sector’s regulatory framework in experimental “living laboratories”: How should such living labs be designed, which regulatory frameworks should be modified or temporarily suspended in these areas in order to support behavioral changes? And how can new social practices be established in passenger transport?
  • Finally, it is relevant how behavioral changes in the context of a transformation can be measured. For this purpose, new digital approaches such as GPS tracking show a large potential. Their concrete applicability for social science issues has yet to be determined.

The overall aim of the project is therefore to provide insights into these gaps in research and to contribute to the development of a "theory of change" for the transport sector. In accordance with the values of the Mercator foundation, concrete suggestions for climate-relevant support of a clean energy and transport transition should be derived and incorporated into the transport policy discussion.