Climate change not main worry of South Africans - TNS

Metro respondents site poverty, unemployment, crime etc. as much bigger problems

As CoP 17 approaches, do ordinary people care?

Climate change and environmental issues are very much in the news as CoP 17 in Durban on 28 November approaches. 

TNS, South Africa's leading marketing and social insights company, conducted another in its series of studies (amongst 2000 metro dwellers) into attitudes to climate change, climate change conferences and environmentally friendly activities in September 2011. 

The study found that 31% of metro adults are in denial, saying that climate change will NOT affect their lives very much, whilst 49% feel it WILL affect their lives, with a very high 20% giving a don't know response.  This 31% in denial is up from the figure of 22% found last year and reverses the trend of the last six years where the figure has been steadily dropping from 41% in 2005 to 22% last year.

However, 62% agree that climate change is already having a big effect on the world's weather (13% disagree but a high 26% again gave a don't know response).  However, this figure of 62% is also down on last year's 69%. 

In addition, 39% feel that climate change conferences do not achieve anything (21% disagree and a very high 40% said don't know). 

The study also asked about the main problems that people feel face South Africa.  The environment is a distant seventh place on the list presented to people.





South  Africa's biggest problem is poverty &unemployment



South  Africa's biggest problem is crime



South  Africa's biggest problem is corruption



South  Africa's biggest problem is HIV and AIDS



South  Africa's biggest problem is a lack of housing delivery



South  Africa's biggest problem is a lack of service delivery



South  Africa's biggest problem is climate change


Concern with climate change as an issue compared with other issues does rise with age:  45% of those aged under 24 cite this as a pressing issue, this dropping to 30% amongst those aged 60 years and older.  This is understandable as the young will inherit the problem - nonetheless, it is still a low level of interest relative to other issues, even amongst youngsters. 

Given that there will be very different effects in different areas, it is not surprising to find different levels of concern by region - though the skews are not always as expected. Concerns are notably higher in Pretoria, Durban and East London and much lower than average on the East and West Rand as well as Port Elizabeth.

In terms of behaviours, about a quarter of people recycle cans, bottles and plastic.

Given that 93% of people in metro homes have electricity as their main source of power, and that Eskom emissions per KWh are amongst the highest in the world, the need for alternative energy is great.  Nine percent make some use of solar or wind power but 66% feel that it is important that we get more of our energy from such sources.  A third of people support the use of nuclear energy.




South Africa's biggest problem is climate change






Johannesburg and environs





Johannesburg excl Soweto




East Rand




West Rand








Vaal Triangle/South Rand






Cape Town








Eastern Cape





Port Elizabeth




East London







Whilst many people (75%) profess to prefer local food produce, 58% admit that they do not actually check the country of origin of the food that they buy.  And whilst 57% claim actively to look for environmentally friendly products, only 16% cite being environmentally friendly as a key requirement of a product or service.  The study shows that a brand has to satisfy six other criteria before environmental issues surface.

The study also segmented people according to their attitudes and behaviours and found that 15% can be classified as being truly "green" orientated.

Our take out

These figures suggest that people are not only cynical about the efficacy of climate change conferences but that they are also losing interest in the climate debate.  It is also very clear that, for many, there is a complete lack of knowledge of or interest in the issue.  That this needs urgent addressing is evident.

The other more immediate problems will become dwarfed by the effects of climate change and the need for everyone to become "green activists" in some way is evident as we face extreme weather, food shortages, higher food costs, and more hardship, especially amongst poorer people.  People and organisations need to consider ways in which they can reduce their use of resources and their carbon emissions (mitigation measures)  and ways in which they can manage the effects of climate change (adaptation measures). 

In addition, the need for CoP 17 to produce a meaningful result in terms of both these strategies, as well as provide a funding mechanism for adopting such strategies is critical for Africa. 

Will there be the political will?

Technical note

The study was conducted amongst 2 000 adults (1260 blacks, 385 whites, 240 coloureds and 115 Indians/Asians) in the seven major metropolitan areas: it has a margin of error of under 2.5% for the results found for the total sample.  The study was conducted by TNS Research Surveys (Pty) Ltd as part of their ongoing research into current social and political issues and was funded by TNS Research Surveys. 

Statement issued by Neil Higgs, Senior Advisor and Head of innovation, TNS South Africa, November 25 2011

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