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Dr Japhet Bakuwa

Home country: Malawi

PANGeA partner: University of Malawi

Year of enrolment: 2011

Graduation date: March 2015

Department: Centre for research on science and technology (CREST)

Supervisor: Prof Johann Mouton

Dissertation title: Public understanding of global climate change in Malawi: An investigation of factors influencing perceptions, attitudes and belief about global climate change

Abstract: This study is informed by both the deficit/positivist and contextual/critical models for doing public understanding of science (PUS) research and seeks to investigate factors that influence the perceptions, beliefs and attitudes towards climate change in Malawi. Previous research on the public understanding of climate change conducted in the United States of America (USA) and Europe suggest that people's beliefs, perceptions and attitudes do influence support for both voluntary and policy initiatives to address climate change and adaption to it. However, it is equally important to understand the factors that influence public perceptions, beliefs and attitudes towards climate change. An investigation into these factors provides an understanding and appreciation of the contextual issues related to the public assimilation and renegotiation of climate change information, as well as the support or rejection of initiatives aimed at addressing climate change. Sub-Saharan African countries are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change because their national economies and populations depend on rain-fed agriculture. Malawi is no exception. The majority of the Malawian population (at least 85%) live in rural areas and depend on subsistence, rain-fed agriculture for their livelihood, and are therefore more vulnerable to climate change. Furthermore, Malawi's economy is agro-based (agriculture comprises about 36% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 85% of exports earnings and 84% of total employment). On the basis of these facts, I hypothesised that the perceptions, beliefs and attitudes of Malawians towards climate change are influenced by a wide range of factors, including the impact of climate change on livelihoods. More specifically, I proposed that more rural inhabitants than urban residents were likely to agree that their livelihood has been negatively affected by climate change, and would also be more willing to take voluntary action to address climate change. Upon performing chi-square analyses of the responses, the results indicate that: (i) significantly more rural (91%) than urban inhabitants (51%) agree that their livelihood has been negatively affected by climate change, and (ii) significant higher proportions of the rural population have at some point taken voluntary action to address climate change Multinomial logistic regression models predicted the perceptions, beliefs and attitudes of Malawians towards climate change. The results show that location is the only predictor of whether an individual would agree that his/her livelihood has been negatively affected by climate change or not. Rural inhabitants are 6.5 times more likely than urban residents to agree that their livelihood has been negatively affected by climate change. Location is also a predictor of the belief that climate change and its impact is the will of God; the belief that the solution to climate change rests with God; and how certain or uncertain a person is regarding the effects of climate change. Binary logistic regression results show that location is also the strongest predictor of whether an individual would take a voluntary action to address climate change or not. Rural inhabitants are 2.3 times more likely than urban residents to take voluntary action to address climate change. Besides place of residence, other predictors of perceptions, beliefs and attitudes towards climate change are: level of education (predictor of three outcome variables, namely: how certain or uncertain a person is about the causes of climate change; whether an individual believes that climate change and its impact is the will of God or not; and whether an individual believes that the solution to the problem of climate change rests with God or not); environmental groups and institutions of learning as sources of information about climate change (predictors of how certain or uncertain a person is about the causes of climate change, and whether a person believes that climate change and its impact is the will of God or not, respectively); and the trustworthiness of village headmen as a source of information about climate change (predictor of whether an individual will believe that climate change and its impact is the will of God or not; and whether an individual will take personal initiative to address climate change). These findings affirm the hypothesis that the impact of climate change on livelihoods of Malawians living in rural locations influences their perceptions, beliefs and attitudes towards climate change. Additionally, the findings suggest that public education about climate change remains key to promoting understanding of climate change. The Government of Malawi and non-governmental organisations have to take up this challenge of educating the Malawian public about climate change, particularly those living in rural locations. However, public education of climate change in Malawi demands that we also take into account the contextual factors that influence Malawians' perceptions, beliefs and attitudes towards climate change. For future research, the study suggests that more research in Sub-Saharan Africa is warranted to unearth the contextual factors that influence the public understanding of climate change.

Click here to download the full dissertation: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/96930

Click here to view Dr Bakuwa Japhet's research outputs ​