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Key findings
  • About one-third (35%) of São Toméans say droughts have become more severe over the past decade, but the same proportion say they have become less severe. Assessments of floods are similarly mixed (37% more severe, 31% less).
  • More than half (57%) of São Toméans say they have heard of climate change. Among those who are aware of climate change: o A majority (57%) say climate change is making life worse. o Most say that ordinary citizens can help limit climate change (78%) and that the government must act now to fight climate change (72%), even at considerable economic cost. o Only small minorities are satisfied with efforts by the government (6%), business and industry (7%), developed countries (9%), and ordinary citizens (13%) to fight climate change. o Most São Toméans assign primary responsibility for fighting climate change and reducing its impact to either ordinary people (36%) or the government (34%), though 24% look primarily to developed countries. o Large majorities say the fight against climate change requires “a lot more” effort by the government (80%), rich or developed countries (73%), business and industry (66%), and ordinary citizens (65%).
  • Assessments of the government’s performance in the fight against climate change are mixed: 39% positive, 33% negative.

Climate change has emerged as one of the most pressing global challenges of our time, affecting ecosystems, economies, and communities around the world (World Health Organization, 2021). As a small island developing state, São Tomé and Príncipe is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change, mainly due to its geography and the fragility of its ecosystems (Green Climate Fund, 2020). The Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative (2021) Index ranks São Tomé and Príncipe high in vulnerability (146th-worst out of 185 countries) and somewhat better (112th) in readiness. 

Rising temperatures and sea levels, changes in wave action, and erratic weather patterns leave the country vulnerable to increasing coastal erosion, drought, and storms.  Catastrophic flooding and landslides in December 2021 affected virtually the entire country, followed by more flooding in March and May 2022 (ReliefWeb, 2023; WorldsAid, 2022). 

Confronted with an urgent need for adaptive measures, the government launched development of a national adaptation plan in 2022 (United Nations Environment Programme, 2022). Even though the country is a “carbon sink,” meaning it removes more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it releases, the government has also committed to reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, doubling its renewable energy generation, and enhancing energy efficiency (São Tomé e Príncipe, 2021). 

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

Findings show that among citizens who are aware of climate change, a majority think it is making life worse, and most say “a lot more” action is needed from the government, developed countries, business and industry, and ordinary citizens to fight it. 

Richard Kweitsu

Richard Kweitsu is a PhD student in political science at the University of Florida.