Climate change in Sadc: Negative conditions lurk

One of the most pressing problems facing Zimbabwe and all Sadc countries in the coming years will be climate change. The long-term consequences of the changes expected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will not be uniform globally, and some regions of the world are expected to experience worse conditions than others, although this is merely a matter of degree since all countries are going to be challenged.

Research and Advocacy Unit

For Zimbabwe, the predicted consequences can be briefly summarised: “In Zimbabwe, climate change will cause average temperatures to rise by about 3˚ before the end of this century. Annual rainfall could decline by between 5% and 18%, especially in the south. Rainfall will become more variable. There will be an increase in droughts, floods and storms. This will affect Zimbabwe’s food security, health, energy supply and the economy.”

Internationally, the requirement for dealing with the problem of climate change is for countries to adopt two kinds of strategies, “mitigation” and “adaptation”. Whilst “mitigation” may be a very important strategy for the heavily industrialised countries producing high levels of carbon and heat, there will be very little that most Sadc countries (South Africa apart), and even most African countries. Zimbabwe contributes very little to the global burden of heat and carbon, although changing energy use and some agricultural practices will help. Therefore, Zimbabwe, in common with most African countries, will be faced with reliance on “adaptation” as the major strategy going into the future.

Adaptation will require changes in the behaviour of citizens, and the changes required will obviously require knowledge and understanding of the problems, and the necessity for behavioural change. Adaptation strategies will also be very different for different groups.

For example, shortages of water or erratic rainfall does not have the same consequences for rural and urban citizens: most rural Zimbabweans are “dry-weather” farmers, reliant on rainfall, but, to some extent, probably less affected by water for daily household use. Urban citizens are wholly reliant upon piped water, especially in large conurbations, and insufficient water storage, due to dams not filling, can have severe effects in the urban setting. There will obviously be many other differences between the two populations, but the point to make here is that there will be differences across different groups. This is well understood and covered in most climate change policies produced in the region, and is covered in Zimbabwean policies addressing climate change.

One of the recommendations for dealing with climate change involves explicit reference to “citizen awareness in Sadc and participation that sustain and prioritise climate change actions”. This, of course, is wholly praiseworthy, but we must ask a number of questions.

Firstly, is a question about understanding climate change: to what extent do Sadc citizens understand climate change and its possible causes and effects? Obviously fostering “citizen awareness” can start from the basis that citizens are well informed through degrees of understanding to citizens having little or no knowledge.

For example, there is scientific evidence about changes in climate in Sadc countries, and this information obviously will drive the decision makers, but to what extent does this information mirror the understanding of ordinary citizens. To take one example, the information on rainfall, a crucial (and “hard”) variable in the livelihoods of many citizens in Sadc that were reliant on dry-weather agriculture. If there was clear evidence of changes in something as visible and tangible as rainfall, we might expect ordinary citizens to be aware of these changes.

The available data on these seven Sadc countries shows decreased rainfall in Botswana, Tanzania and Zambia, whilst the picture is mixed for Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. However, Zimbabwe apart, the evidence suggests that there is evidence for climate change, and, so, the question here is to what extent have any of these changes been observed by ordinary citizens.

Secondly, and this may be very important in populations with a high degree of poverty, including rural poverty, do citizens care about climate change in the context of the high degree of hardship that they deal with every day? For example, it can easily be assume on the basis of scientific knowledge that rural citizens need to change the crops they grow because of climate change in order to maintain food security, but this has implications for earning income through cash crops.

One can expect that requiring such changes make rational, scientific sense, but little sense for family that needs to earn money for health, schooling and the like. Thus, it would seem important to have some sense of the view, bottom-up, of the ordinary citizen, and have some grasp of what they know already. This will take detailed research, but here we were interested to find out from existing information what we already know about citizens’ views about climate change.

The Afrobarometer Round Seven asked a number of questions about climate change for the first time, and we used these questions to see how countries in the Sadc region were similar or different. We also undertook a more analytical look at Zimbabwe in particular, and looked at a number of variables that might affect attitudes to climate change.

For the Zimbabwe study, we converted all the climate change questions into binary variables, and analysed these against the variables of residence (rural or urban). We also included a measure for “access to news”, a measure of “activism”, a measure of “ownership”, level of education and employment.

We chose the indicator, access to news, as one possible measure for understanding how citizens get their information generally. This was to test whether this affected knowledge about climate change. There were five possible sources of information canvassed in the Afrobarometer: newspaper, television, radio, internet and social media. Obviously, these sources of information are linked to the material status of citizens, for which we used the indicator ownership: own a radio, television, motor car/motor cycle, computer, mobile phone, and bank account.

We also included the measure of material well-being, lived poverty, as a check on the rural/urban split. Poverty is not confined to the rural areas in contemporary Zimbabwe, and it might be the case that poverty and residence (rural versus urban) might be conflated in views about climate change: we thus wanted to be sure that these could be separated.

Finally, we used the indicator, activism, in order to test whether duty bearers might be a source of information about climate change. This was predicated on the understanding that, since 2015, duty bearers have been provided with a monograph on climate change, specifically tailored for them.

Once again, there is also the interesting finding that, Zimbabwe apart, there are no material differences in the views of rural and urban citizens in Sadc. There is a trend in some of the countries — Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland and Zambia — for rural citizens to see flooding as having worsened, but the differences between rural and urban are very small.

Perhaps this is all due to the fact that weather and climate change are not seen as belonging to the same universe of discourse, and this is given some weight through asking respondents about climate change explicitly. For example, questions about drought or flooding may be seen as weather events that are not related to climate, and climate means something else. So, asking the specific question about their knowledge may shed some light here.

Clear differences between rural and urban folk emerge when the asking knowledge question.

Firstly, urban folk are significantly, and for every one of these countries sampled, more likely to have heard about climate change. For every country, South Africa and Tanzania, a majority of urban citizens have heard about climate change, but it does seem surprising that urban South Africans, in one of the most sophisticated countries and with an enormous media capacity, should not be the most knowledgeable in the Sadc region. However, this anomaly continues when asking the question about the meaning of climate change.

The differences between rural and urban largely disappear in response to this question, both groups seems to be clear that climate change is negative, and there are still differences between all the countries on average. Large majorities in Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland and Tanzania are more likely to see climate change as negative as citizens in Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Overall, it is evident that there are differences in the view of citizens both within and between Sadc countries.

Firstly, five out of the nine Sadc countries (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe) do not think that the climate has worsened over the past 10 years, but the rainfall data indicates that it has in fact worsened in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia. Malawians do think that it has, but the “hard” data, rainfall, suggests that it has not.

Secondly, the same five also think that there have not been worse droughts in the past decade, and, in respect of flooding, this same five, and Lesotho, think that flooding has not gotten worse. This is interesting in the light of the evidence of the severe effects of Cyclone Eline on South Africa and Zimbabwe in 2000, and the severe drought in 2015/2016, which experts suggest affected 41 million in the Sadc region.

Thirdly, it is encouraging that majorities in most countries have heard of climate change, and most see this a negative changes. However, the understanding is greater amongst urban rather than rural residents, and, surprisingly, lowest in South Africans, whether rural or urban.

Cyclone Eline had a strong local effect in Zimbabwe, mainly in parts of Manicaland and Masvingo, and those with access to news might have got a better picture of the disaster. Rural folk do mainly get access to news through the radio and this event would have been covered on radio, as it was one of the large natural disasters to have affected the country.

The major point to make here is that the more detailed picture on Zimbabwe amplifies the findings on the country comparisons, but also shows the important differences between rural and urban Zimbabweans.

The available scientific evidence indicates that Zimbabwe, and much of sub-Saharan Africa will be subjected to very adverse climate conditions in the coming decades. Zimbabwe will not escape this, and, despite the attention given by the Zimbabwe government to climate change, citizens do not seem to have much understanding.

The first thing to note from these findings are the comparative differences between the Sadc countries included in the study. Using rainfall changes as a hard indicator of changes, Sadc citizens have widely differing views on whether changes have taken place or not that are at variance with the facts.

Secondly, it is evident that in virtually all the countries more urban citizens have heard about climate change than their rural counterparts. This seems due to the greater availability of information for the former, and this seems obvious. There is less difference between the two groups in understanding that climate change will have negative consequences.

However, this is a very restricted set of questions from which to draw strong conclusions about citizens understanding about climate change, and suggests that there does need to be a closer examination about attitudes to and knowledge about climate change. We attempted to examine this a little more deeply using the fuller Afrobarometer data on Zimbabwe.

This confirmed most of the findings from the Sadc countries comparison, but some flesh on the general findings.

Firstly, understanding climate change, measures as the climate score, was significantly associated with access to news (radio, TV, newspaper, internet and social media), ownership (own television, transport, computer and bank account), and being employed. The advantages of what might be termed “middle class”, or the lack of lived poverty, are obvious.

Secondly, and in common with other Zimbabwean studies, activism is a property of rural Zimbabweans. Activism is significantly associated with being older, getting news from the radio, and having contact with a wide range of officials and public agents (local councillors, MPs, government officials, political party officials, traditional and religious leaders). This association with rural residence was confirmed through hypothesis testing, but there were some very interesting differences.

There will be significant changes to the lives of Southern African citizens in the coming decades, and the abiding lesson for all policies, whether developmental or mitigatory, is that they rarely succeed without the full participation of those being affected. As we hope we have shown, we know too little about how ordinary citizens think and feel about climate change, and this should be a priority of some urgency.