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Key findings
  • A majority (55%) of Malawians say droughts have become more severe over the past decade. Half (49%) say the same about floods.
  • Almost three in every four Malawians (74%) say they have heard of climate change.
  • Awareness of climate change is higher among urbanites (87%) and men (79%) than among rural residents (72%) and women (69%). More educated citizens are more likely to be aware of climate change than those with less schooling.
  • Only four in 10 citizens (39%) think the government is doing a good job of addressing climate change, while 52% say it is handling the issue “fairly badly” or “very badly.”

Malawi ranks among the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change (Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative, 2020). In addition to the destructive effects of deadly disasters like last year’s Tropical Storm Ana (BBC, 2022), drought, heat, flooding, and other climate shocks threaten development plans in every sector. Nowhere are potential impacts clearer than in agriculture, which employs more than three-fourths of Malawi’s workforce and contributes about one-fourth of gross domestic product (GDP) and 80% of export revenue (Government of Malawi, 2022:9; National Planning Commission, 2020:13; Malawi Investment and Trade Centre, 2023).

The World Bank’s (2022) Country Climate and Development Report estimates that climate change could reduce Malawi’s GDP by 3%-9% in 2030 and push 2 million more Malawians into poverty over the next decade.

Confronting the threat of climate change, the government of Malawi is a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol, and the 2015 Paris Agreement aimed at strengthening the global response to the climate crisis. In addition to its 2016 National Climate Change Management Policy, it has implemented a variety of programmes and projects aimed at limiting and mitigating climate change, including the National Climate Change Resilience Programme, Africa Adaptation Programme (AAP), Climate Adaptation for Rural Livelihoods and Agriculture (CARLA), Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA), and Strategy on Climate Change Learning (Government of Malawi, 2021).

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 questionnaire to explore Malawians’ experiences and perceptions of climate change.

Findings show that among the three-fourths of Malawians who are familiar with climate change, most say it is making life in their country worse. They divide primary responsibility for fighting climate change between the government and ordinary citizens but say “a lot more” action by all stakeholders – including more developed countries and business and industry – is needed.

Happy Kayuni

Happy Mickson Kayuni is a professor in the University of Malawi’s Political and Administrative Studies Department in Zomba.

Joseph Chunga

Joseph J. Chunga is the national investigator for Malawi.