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FEATURE: Asia’s people believe climate is changing


Tan Copsey of BBC Media in Action describes how his organisation’s huge public opinion survey, Climate Asia, has revealed much about Asians’ perceptions of climate change.

Across Asia people think the climate is changing. Three quarters of respondents to a survey across Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam – seven countries that contain almost half the world’s population – said temperatures were rising. Forty per cent of people said the severity of extreme weather events had increased, while 52 per cent said rainfall had been unpredictable.

According to people’s perceptions, certain regions seemed to be hot-spots of intense change. On the central coast of Vietnam, 89 per cent of people thought temperatures had risen and more than 50 per cent felt extreme weather events had increased. Changes, especially to rainfall, also varied considerably within countries. As one Bangladeshi expert put it: “Each area has its own problems. Our region has its own needs. The problems of the northern region and the southern region are not the same and their solutions are not same.”

These changes in climate have combined with changes in the availability of food, water and energy to affect people’s lives. People felt they were losing income as a result, and in some cases they were changing jobs. Those whose lives had depended on small-scale farming and fishing seemed to be particularly affected. Almost a third of people felt they were experiencing high impact as a result of climate and resource changes now. Nearly everyone expected to experience even higher impacts in future.

Many people thought these changes in climate were negatively affecting their health through a rise in water-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever. Forty-six per cent of people felt the number of mosquitos and other disease-bearing pests had increased. How people experienced these changes varied considerably. Farmers and fishermen were particularly affected, as their livelihoods depended so much on predictable weather.

But there was good news too. All across Asia people were taking action to respond to the changes they had noticed. People who felt informed, were involved in communities whose inhabitants acted together, and had experienced some impact as a result of climate and resource changes were more likely to be adapting. These people were taking a wide range of actions, from diversifying crops in rural areas to planning for extreme weather events.

In some cases the level of knowledge of how to respond to changes in climate was very high. One woman in Nepal was quite clear about the best action her community could take: “The main thing that we need is irrigation,” she said. “If there [was] proper irrigation, then we could do something. There is the possibility for lift irrigation [where water is brought to higher ground by pumps of other means, rather than distributed using natural flows] and we could [organise] that by collecting money from everyone.

Galvanising action with words

Spreading the word about how best to respond to climate change can help communities mobilise to meet the challenge. There are real opportunities for stakeholders across the development sector to encourage effective action, provided they use communication approaches and outlets that meet the needs and preferences of their audience.

It can be more effective, for example, to focus on issues in people’s day-to-day lives, rather than highlighting climate change itself. The availability of water and reduced agricultural productivity are two very important day-to-day concerns for huge numbers of people. As one Indian official noted: “One good thing that the media [could] do would be to address these issues without actually mentioning the words ‘climate change’. Talk about conservation, better efficiency in energy use; those are matters which can be discussed without making people scared.”

It is important to think about the values people hold when deciding how to communicate climate change messages. Some people are religious or hold traditional values, while others may be motivated purely by the desire to earn more money. Communication should be framed to match people’s values, priorities and preferences.

In some cases, these values fit perfectly with climate compatible development. In Indonesia, for example, people noted that traditional values of prudence encouraged them to extract resources economically. “Practicing traditional values down through the generations will save our trees in the forest and fish in our river,” said one respondent. “Our ancestors taught us how to use ‘just enough’, not [to be] greedy.”

The findings of Climate Asia are all publically available through reports, infographics, guides for stakeholders and a fully interactive data portal.

About Climate Asia

Climate Asia is the largest ever study of people’s experiences of climate change in seven countries: Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam. The study included 33,500 interviews with people across Asia. This unique data provides information for governments, donors, the media, NGOs and everyone who wants to support people to adapt to a changing environment.

 

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