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South Africa Talks Climate
March 2010

Acknowledgements: FANRPAN acknowledges Africa Talks Climate as the source of this document


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'Issues like HIV and AIDS dominate both government and NGO agendas, to the detriment of environmental issues.'

What do people think about climate change in South Africa? Can communication and media strategies be tailored to support South Africa's response to climate change?

Between August and October 2009, the BBC World Service Trust conducted research in South Africa to gauge public understanding of climate change.

The research consisted of 16 focus group discussions with South African citizens, as well as 18 in-depth interviews with opinion leaders from government, religious institutions, the private sector, the media and civil society.

Findings included:

Many South Africans do not see climate change as having any special relevance to South Africa or the rest of the African continent. however, when prompted to think about the impacts of climate change locally, they link it to national issues which they are already concerned about, such as the loss of wildlife and increased flooding.

Many South Africans use climate change as an umbrella term to refer to the destruction occurring in their natural surroundings, with changes in the weather and seasons forming part of the broader environmental changes people have observed over the course of their lifetimes.

Most South Africans tend to view climate change as a ‘green’ issue that only the wealthy can afford to worry about. they are less aware of the potentially far-reaching social and economic consequences of climate change on South Africa, in terms of migration, food export revenues, and tourism.

Despite recognising South Africa’s contribution to climate change, citizens express reluctance to moderate their lifestyles to reduce carbon emissions, especially as they see little government or private sector leadership on the issue. South Africans say that they do not want to sacrifice things important to them (cars or electricity, for example) unless the government reassures them that their actions can have a real impact.

South Africans tend to view the destruction of the environment as an inevitable consequence of their country’s development.

Opinion leaders believe that, while many South Africans are aware of climate change, they see it as a remote threat and are yet to realise the dramatic impact it could have on their livelihoods in the future.

There is a feeling amongst the public that, politically and individually, South Africa lacks the will to tackle climate change in a cohesive and committed manner. South Africans believe that issues like HIV and AIDS dominate both government and NGO agendas, to the detriment of environmental issues.

South Africans frequently mention recycling as a viable way to tackle climate change and environmental degradation. however, many are unclear how recycling links to climate change and often cite personal and systemic barriers to recycling (lack of time or lack of recycling facilities, for example).

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