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Page last updated at 01:35 GMT, Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Africans 'take blame for climate change'

By Matt McGrath
BBC environment reporter

Coral reef in Zanzibar, Tanzania
Africans are uncertain how to approach climate change issues

Many Africans blame themselves for climate change even though fossil fuel emissions there are less than 4% of the global total, a new survey suggests.

The report, the most extensive survey ever conducted on public understanding of the issue, found that others blamed God for changes in weather patterns.

It suggests dealing with climate change poses similar challenges to HIV and Aids, as people lack key information.

It was carried out for the BBC World Service trust and the British Council.

It has become a well-worn truism of international climate politics that those that did the least to cause climate change are those set to suffer the most from it.

Often there are no words for these concepts in local languages
Anna Godfrey, WS Trust

However the Africa Talks Climate Report indicates that this message hasn't got through to many of those bearing the heaviest consequences of rising temperatures across the continent.

Over 1,000 citizens in 10 countries took part in discussions to ascertain what Africans really know and understand about the climate.

Divine punishment

The report found a near-universal sense that what people call "weather" is changing and affecting lives.

But most of those interviewed did not connect these changes with global causes such as emissions of carbon dioxide.

Instead people tend to blame themselves or their peers for local environmental degradation and some see the changes as a form of divine punishment.

Anna Godfrey, research manager for the BBC World Service Trust, says this religious perspective could help in climate education.

"One of the big stumbling blocks is language with many people not understanding the terminology of climate change, and often there are no words for these concepts in local languages," said Ms Godfrey.

Some 200 opinion leaders were also interviewed for the report.

Some argued that the lack of appropriate information about rising temperatures is comparable to the early days of HIV/Aids where ignorance helped the rapid spread of the infection.

Often local government leaders were among those least informed about global climate change.



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