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Key findings
  • About half (49%) of South Africans said they had heard of climate change, a 7- percentage-point increase since 2018.
  • Among those who were aware of climate change, more than six in 10 (62%) said it is making life in South Africa “somewhat worse” (30%) or “much worse” (32%).
  • Compared to 2018, the proportion of citizens who said climate change is making life worse increased by 9 percentage points.

In recent years, South Africa has experienced several catastrophic climate-related events, most notably the Orange River floods in 2011, the worst drought on record in 2015, the Knysna fires in 2017 (World Bank, 2021; Khoza, 2019), and the recent floods that wreaked havoc in the coastal city of Durban and its surrounds, claiming more than 400 lives and leaving thousands displaced (Ogunmodede, 2022).

Climate change is making its presence felt in the country, impacting South African ecosystems, economies, and livelihoods (USAID, 2021). Despite the country’s standing as the most developed economy in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), it is not insulated from the severe harms that the range of climate-change impacts adds to its challenges of constrained financial resources, a sluggish economy, and persistent unemployment (King, 2021).

In response, the national government has approved critical actions that prioritise climate mitigation and adaptation strategies, emissions reductions, and waste management. The South African Cabinet has forged ahead with the creation of a Presidential Climate Change Coordinating Commission, a Low Emissions Development Strategy, a National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, a National Waste Management Strategy 2020, a carbon tax, and a draft Climate Change Bill (South African Government, 2020).

What are South Africans’ experiences and perceptions of climate change? Findings from the most recent Afrobarometer survey in South Africa, in 2021, show that popular awareness of climate change, though increasing, remained relatively low. Among those who were aware of it, a growing number said climate change is making life in the country worse.

Asafika Mpako

Asafika is the communications coordinator for Southern Africa

Preston Govindasamy

Preston is the project manager for Southern Africa.