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Climate change literacy in Africa

Abstract

Climate change literacy encompasses being aware of both climate change and its anthropogenic cause, and thus underpins informed mitigation and adaptation responses. However, climate change literacy rates and their predictors remain poorly understood across the Global South. Here analysis of Africa’s largest representative public opinion survey shows climate change literacy ranges from 23 to 66% of the population across 33 countries, with larger variation at subnational scales (for example, 5–71% among states in Nigeria). Strong positive predictors of climate change literacy are education and mobility, but poverty decreases climate change literacy, and country-level climate change literacy rates are, on average, 12.8% lower for women than men. Perceived drought experiences and historical trends in precipitation are also important predictors. These results highlight where interventions can target specific regions and demographics to increase climate change literacy and help ensure that responses are informed by better understanding of current and future climate change.

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Fig. 1: Climate change literacy and its association with related concepts that inform responses to climate change.
Fig. 2: Studies on climate change literacy in Africa (2000–2020).
Fig. 3: Climate change literacy rates across Africa.
Fig. 4: Predictors of climate change literacy in Africa.

Data availability

The datasets analysed in the current study are available in: the Afrobarometer repository, https://www.afrobarometer.org/data (all geolocation data have been removed from respondents in accordance with Afrobarometer data-use protocols, but can be accessed from the Afrobarometer); the Copernicus Climate Data Store (the ERA5-Land monthly data), https://cds.climate.copernicus.eu/cdsapp#!/home; and EM-DAT, the international disaster database, https://www.emdat.be/. All processed datasets can be obtained from Figshare109, which includes: (1) the dataset of national and subnational climate change literacy rates for Africa, (2) the dataset of gender differences in national climate change literacy rates for Africa and (3) shape files presenting national and subnational climate change literacy rates for Africa.

Code availability

All code used can be obtained from Figshare109, which includes the following: code for cleaning and merging the Afrobarometer data as well as running the analyses, and code and computed output files for climate trends extracted from ERA5 experienced by Afrobarometer survey respondents for (1) the number of months per year in the past ten- and thirty-year periods in which temperature was above the 95th percentile, (2) SPEI, (3) three-month SPI and (4) the duration of the longest dry spell (maximum CDD) of the year.

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Acknowledgements

This work was funded by the UK Government’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada grant no. 109419–001 to N.P.S. C.H.T. was funded by the FLAIR (Future Leaders - African Independent Research) Fellowship Programme, a partnership between the African Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society funded by the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund.

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N.P.S., T.M.A., M.K. and C.H.T. conceptualized the study. Validation was done by N.P.S., T.M.A., M.K., C.L., A.S. and C.H.T. and formal analysis by N.P.S., T.M.A., M.K., C.L., R.C.O., B.O., A.S. and C.H.T. Resources were provided by C.H.T. The data were curated by N.P.S., M.K., T.M.A. and B.O. The original manuscript draft was written by N.P.S., T.M.A., M.K., C.L., R.C.O., B.O., A.S. and C.H.T.; it was reviewed and edited by N.P.S., T.M.A., M.K., C.L., A.S., B.O. and C.H.T. Visualization was done by N.P.S., T.M.A., M.K., B.O. and C.H.T. Revisions were done by N.P.S., T.M.A., M.K., C.L., R.C.O., B.O., A.S. and C.H.T. C.H.T. supervised the project. Project administration was done by N.P.S. Funding was acquired by C.H.T.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Nicholas P. Simpson or Christopher H. Trisos.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Stuart Capstick and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Distribution of studies on climate change literacy, awareness and perception in Africa from 2000–2020.

Review identified 16 studies covering eight countries on climate change literacy31,35,38,39,42,47,64,65,76,77,78,79,80,81,82,83,84 country studies on climate change awareness and 141 country studies on climate change perception on Africa. Seven studies covering eight countries on climate change perception included qualitative observations of respondents’ climate change literacy12,66,85,86,87,88,89. Nine studies covering 25 countries focused on climate change awareness without testing for nor qualitatively exploring respondents’ understanding of the human cause of the concept of climate change19,50,90,91,92,93,94,95,96 (see also Supplementary Data 1).

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information, Figs. 1–3 and Tables 1–13.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Data 1

Vote-count meta-analysis of climate change literacy (2000–2020), meta-analysis of climate change perception (2000–2020), meta-analysis of climate change literacy (2000–2020) and Africa names search terms.

Supplementary Data 2

Roses flow diagram.

Supplementary Data 3

Roses reporting checklist.

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Simpson, N.P., Andrews, T.M., Krönke, M. et al. Climate change literacy in Africa. Nat. Clim. Chang. (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-021-01171-x

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