The Arab World’s Opinion on Climate Change

Karim Elgendy

A pan-Arab survey conducted by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED)  found that a resounding majority of 98% believed that the climate is changing.

The survey sample which included a big segment of educated people (who more reflect the views of those nearer to decision making, than proportionally reflect the actual population mix) showed that only a small portion of 5%  said they did not understand what climate change was, reaching a maximum of 11% in Syria. However, 95% of those who said they did not understand what climate change was, still answered that they believed the weather was changing,  (Figure 1).  A majority of 89% also thought that this change was due to human activities, including excessive use of energy and depletion of resources, (Figure 2). These results clearly showed that climate change has become widely accepted by the public in Arab countries as a fact which needs to be addressed. Moreover, the survey showed that the skeptical attitudes which prevailed among some groups on the facts and causes of climate change, either denying it entirely or limiting it to natural causes, are decreasing.

Survey Figure 1. Source: AFED Arab Environment Climate Change Report.

Survey Figure 2. Source: AFED Arab Environment Climate Change Report.

Most respondents (84%) also believed that climate change posed a serious challenge to their countries, a figure that rose to 94% in Morocco and 100% in Tunisia. However, it was unexpected to find that that respondents from some countries which face major threats did not fully recognize this. For example 36% of respondents in Sudan answered that climate change did not pose serious problem to their country, at a time when a World Bank report put Sudan on top of a list of twelve countries classified to be the most affected regarding agriculture and food production. A similar situation applies to Syria, where 33% of the respondents did not find that climate change was a serious threat to the country. In contrast, 100% of Sudanese and Syrian respondents agreed that the climate is globally changing. This contrast reflects the general trend of approaching climate change in Arab media and by politicians as a global issue without discussing its local impact and consequences on individual countries and areas (Figure 3).

On the other hand, when asked to choose sectors where climate change will have major impact in their countries, it was interesting to note that not a single respondent said there will be no effect at all and that the majority, at the regional level, gave priority to health, drinking water and food, followed by coastal area, forests, and tourism (Figure 4).

Survey Figure 3. Source: AFED Arab Environment Climate Change Report.

Survey Figure 4. Source: AFED Arab Environment Climate Change Report.

Those surveyed were also asked to choose the three most important measures to mitigate the causes and adapt to the effects of climate change. 64% of respondents agreed that reducing the consumption of energy was the best measure to use to reduce carbon emissions and therefore limit global warming. This measure was followed by raising education and awareness of global warming, and ratifying and implementing international treaties (Figure 5). In light of this, the majority of respondents from all countries, regions and socio-economic backgrounds agreed that more should be done by governments. 51% of respondents thought that governments were not doing enough to address  the problem. Public trust in governmental actions was at its best in Oman where 92% thought the Omani government was acting well to address climate change, and was at its worst in Sudan and Bahrain where 50% and 41% respectively thought that their government was not  (Figure 7 ). On the other hand, a majority of respondents indicated their willingness to take personal action within a global framework, with 93% pledging to do “what they can” to reduce their contribution to climate change, and over 94% suggesting that their country would benefit from participating in a global action to deal with climate change. Source: AFED Arab Environment Climate Change Report.

Survey Figure 5. Source: AFED Arab Environment Climate Change Report.

Survey Figure 6. Source: AFED Arab Environment Climate Change Report.

Survey Figure 7. Source: AFED Arab Environment Climate Change Report.

Karim Elgendy is an architect and a sustainable design researcher based in San Francisco. He can be contacted at: Karim [at] Carboun [dot] com

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