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State Of Indian Mind On Climate Change Dialogue


A large majority of Indians (91%) said they were either “very worried” (59%) or “somewhat worried” (32%) about global warming. By contrast, only 8% said they are either “not very worried” (2%) or “not at all worried” (6%) about it.

By Salam Rajesh

“Global warming refers to the idea that the world’s average temperature has been increasing over the past 150 years, may be increasing more in the future, and that the world’s climate and weather patterns may change as a result”.

This thesis formed the basis of a country-wide scan of the Indian mind on what they conceived about climate change discourse, with a particular thrust on the topic of ‘global warming’, undertaken by author Anthony Leiserowitz and colleagues for a Yale Program on Climate Change, and broadly outlined in their published report, ‘Climate Change in the Indian Mind (2023)’.

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication conducted a nationally representative survey of 2,178 Indian adults between 5th September and 1st November last year, wherein the study was designed to investigate current public climate change awareness, beliefs, attitudes, policy support, behaviour, and self-reported vulnerability to extreme weather events.

On the climate front, three related processes are at work: climate change, global warming and extreme weather events – each defining in their own dimension of evident impacts on both the human and the natural environment. The impacts range from extremities of heat and cold-related weather events, anomalies in rainfall patterns, increased intensity and frequency of severe cyclones, evident changes in vegetation cover, and many more.

With reference to vulnerability and resilience specific to local environmental hazards, the Yale study noted that a large majority of people in India are worried about various environmental hazards harming their local areas.

The concern includes agricultural pests and diseases (87%), extinction of plant and animal species (86%), severe heat waves (85%), droughts and water shortages (85%), severe air pollution (85%), famines and food shortages (83%), severe cyclones (76%), and severe floods (71%).

The study further noted that 64% of the Indian population said they usually receive warnings ahead of time when an extreme weather event, such as, heat wave, flood or cyclone, happens in their local area. Yet, 34% said they do not receive any such early warnings.

On this very note, anticipating future disasters, 34% of Indians said they had either already moved or considered moving because of weather-related disasters like extreme heat, droughts, sea-level rise, and flooding.

This reference reflects back to the report that the Indonesian government had resolved to shift the country’s capital from Jakarta to Kalimantan due to the steady rise in sea level threatening the complete submergence of the city in the immediate future.

Coming back to the query whether people, in general, are aware of global warming, only 10% said they are fairly well aware of it, while 54% of the interviewed said they knew “just a little” about global warming or have never heard of it. 52% of them said global warming is caused mostly by human activities, while 38% opined it is caused mostly by natural changes in the environment.

The Yale study further noted that 92% of the studied subjects felt that global warming is either “extremely” (38%), “very” (35%), or “somewhat” important (20%) to them personally, while 85% of the interviewed said they had experienced the effects of global warming as best as they could understand it.

At the 26th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, COP 26) in November 2021, the Government of India announced its intention to reach net zero carbon pollution by 2070.

On this aspect, 86% of the studied group favoured the government’s commitment to reduce India’s carbon pollution to nearly zero by the target year 2070, while 85% observed that transitioning from coal to wind and solar energy to produce electricity will reduce air pollution, and 82% said doing so would reduce global warming.

Relating to the query, 84% of the interviewees favoured banning the construction of new coal power plants, closing existing ones, and replacing them with solar and wind energy. The issue on reduction of fossil fuel use was fairly debated upon at the Dubai COP 28 where the divide of opinion was clearly spelt out at the global climate conference, with one group for a complete ban on further fossil fuel use and production, while the fossil fuel lobby was reluctant to give in to the pressure.

A large majority of Indians (91%) said they were either “very worried” (59%) or “somewhat worried” (32%) about global warming. By contrast, only 8% said they are either “not very worried” (2%) or “not at all worried” (6%) about it.

Quite intriguingly, the study reflected that only about half of the Indian population (55%) said they hear about global warming in the media “at least once a month”, including 33% who said they hear about it “at least once a week”. In contrast, 43% said they hear about global warming in the media only “several times a year” or less often, including 16% who said they “never” hear about global warming in the media.

This later observation indicated the status of the people in general as to what extent they are aware on the latest climate issues, even as the mode of extreme weather events and the increased frequency of these events continue to plague the country many times in a year.

The reflection also indicates as to what extent local and national media tend to focus on this core issue that has the potential to cause considerable impacts on agriculture, biodiversity, and human well-being.

The initiative of Manipur’s State Climate Change Cell under the Directorate of Environment and Climate Change, Government of Manipur, in striving to gear up the energy and potential of the local media on climate change reporting certainly seeks to fill up the void that is explicitly outlined in the Yale study assessment.

The initiative, commencing in 2019, provides fellowship to ten young local journalists every year to work up stories related to climate issues in the local context with reference to national and global concerns.

In rounding up the discussion, the Yale study report is of the firm belief that ‘an effective national strategy must take into account the climate change and energy-related beliefs, attitudes, policy preferences, and behaviours’ of the Indian population who ultimately will play a vital role in the success or failure of the campaign to limit global temperature rise by 1.5 degree Celsius by the target year 2050 through their individual and collective decisions and behaviour as responsible citizens, consumers, and communities.

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