Change Ahead: Experience and Awareness of Climate Change in Africa

Climate change is “the defining development challenge of our time,” and Africa the continent most vulnerable to its consequences, according to the African Union and the United Nations. Farmers in Uganda waiting endlessly for rain, cyclone survivors in Mozambique and Zimbabwe digging out of the mud and burying their dead – these images bring home what changing climate and increasingly extreme weather conditions may mean for everyday Africans. Long-term changes in temperatures and rainfall patterns are a particular menace to Africa, where agriculture forms the economic backbone of development priorities such as food security and poverty eradication. As an issue, “climate change” per se does not register among the “most important problems” that Africans surveyed by Afrobarometer want their governments to address. But concerns about the effects of climate change may be embedded in some of the other priorities identified, including water supply (cited by 24% of respondents), food shortages (18%), and agriculture (17%). And progress in addressing these priorities may be seriously impeded by a changing climate. African countries dominate the bottom ranks in the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN) Index (2019), meaning they are the world’s countries most vulnerable to and least prepared for climate change. Findings from Afrobarometer’s latest round of public-opinion surveys across Africa show a keen awareness of climate change in some countries – often backed by personal observation – but the opposite in others. Across the continent, among people who have heard of climate change, a large majority say it is making life worse and needs to be stopped. But four in 10 Africans are unfamiliar with the concept of climate change – even, in some cases, if they have personally observed detrimental changes in weather patterns. And only about three in 10 are fully “climate change literate,” combining awareness of climate change with basic knowledge about its causes and negative effects. Groups that are less familiar with climate change – and might be good targets for awareness-raising and advocacy in building a popular base for climate-change action – include people working in agriculture, rural residents, women, the poor, and the less-educated.