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Key findings
  • Significant proportions of Africans say droughts (47%) and floods (35%) have become more severe in their region over the past decade. o Rural and poor citizens are particularly likely to report increasingly severe droughts, as are people working in the agriculture sector. o Worsening droughts are of greatest concern in Madagascar (86%), Cabo Verde (80%), Niger (73%), and Tunisia (69%), while more severe flooding is most commonly reported in Lesotho (73%), Mauritius (68%), the Gambia (62%), and Niger (62%).
  • On average across 39 countries, about half (51%) of respondents say they have heard of climate change. o Awareness of climate change ranges from 22% in Tunisia to 80% in Seychelles. It is particularly low among economically disadvantaged and less educated citizens, rural residents, and women.
  • Among people who are aware of climate change, more than seven in 10 (72%) say it is making life in their country worse. This is the majority view in 34 of the 39 surveyed countries, ranging up to 91% of citizens in Madagascar.
  • Among people who are aware of climate change: o About three-fourths say that citizens can help limit climate change (77%) and that their government should act now to limit climate change, even at considerable cost (74%). o Most people assign primary responsibility for limiting climate change to their government (44%) or to ordinary citizens (30%). o Large majorities demand “a lot more” action against climate change from their government (77%), developed countries (71%), and the business community (69%).
  • Only about one in three Africans (36%) say their government is addressing the issue of climate change “fairly well” or “very well.”

Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges facing Africa today. The continent is responsible for less than 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change, projected to experience some of its most severe impacts (Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative, 2023). According to the most recent report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), temperature increases due to human-caused climate change have been detected across Africa, and many regions have warmed more rapidly than the global average (Trisos et al., 2023). Rising sea levels have left cities in East, West, and North Africa particularly vulnerable, and changes in rainfall patterns have worsened droughts and floods across the continent.

These changes have had devastating impacts on people’s lives, livelihoods, and the environment, made worse by Africa’s low adaptation capabilities. In 2022, North Africa was gripped by extreme heat, fuelling wildfires in Algeria and Tunisia. The Horn of Africa faced its worst drought in 40 years. In Somalia, almost 1.2 million people have been displaced by the catastrophic impacts of drought on pastoral and farming livelihoods (World Meteorological Organization, 2023). Tropical cyclones have spread death and destruction in Mozambique and Malawi (Davies, 2022). The effects are not limited to rural areas: About 70% of African cities are highly vulnerable to climate shocks (Gu, Gerland, Pelletier, & Cohen, 2015; Trisos et al., 2023). The human costs of climate change are expected to rise in the coming decades. According to the IPCC report, “Multiple African countries are projected to face compounding risks from reduced food production across crops, livestock, and fisheries; increased heat-related mortality; heat-related loss of labor productivity; and flooding from sea-level rise, especially in West Africa” (Trisos et al., 2023, p. 1290).

Therefore, it is critically important that African countries urgently increase climate change resilience and adaptation capacities (Stringer et al., 2023). This will require financial resources and coordinated interventions from African governments, businesses, civil society, and ordinary citizens. Unfortunately, developed countries, which contribute most to global warming, have yet to honor their pledge to mobilize sufficient funding for climate action in Africa (OECD, 2023). But even if existing pledges were realized, they would have to be complemented by interventions from African countries to successfully mitigate the effects of climate change.

During the recent Africa Climate Summit (2023) in Nairobi, Kenya, African leaders re-emphasized the need to accelerate and scale up climate adaptation action. Improving domestic capabilities to respond to the escalating severity of climate impacts requires the buy-in of citizens as well as political leaders (Global Center on Adaptation, 2023), which is contingent on awareness of climate change and public understanding of climate risk.

Findings from Afrobarometer’s latest round of public opinion surveys in 39 African countries show that over the past decade, many Africans have experienced more severe droughts and floods. Yet these experiences do not necessarily translate into greater awareness of the threat: Only half of respondents say they have heard of climate change.

Among citizens who are aware of climate change, most expect their government to take the lead in dealing with its causes and consequences – and to do so more decisively than it has to date. They are prepared to support government measures to limit climate change, even if they are expensive or cause harm to the economy.

But Africans also expect “a lot more” climate action from business and industry, developed countries, and ordinary citizens, underscoring their view of climate change as a shared global challenge.

Alfred Kwadzo Torsu

Alfred Torsu is a data analytics officer for Afrobarometer. He has a master’s in public policy analysis from Michigan State University.

Matthias Krönke

Matthias Krönke is a researcher in the Afrobarometer Analysis Unit.