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Could world's 'adaptation capital' be slow adapting?

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 20 Sep 2013 00:15 GMT
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A woman sits with her child inside their house at a flooded village in Kurigram, Bangladesh, on July 3, 2012. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj
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I am quite excited about the BBC’s new Climate Asia Data Portal for two reasons.

First, it focuses on common people’s perceptions of climate change. These perceptions may differ from formal sources or databases. These may be shaped by an individual’s beliefs, education or media exposure. But such perceptions indeed matter in communication.

Second, the Bangladesh Report available on this portal quoted my country as “the adaptation capital of the world” – one of the first mentions in a formal publication! This branding was first offered by Saleemul Huq, of the International Institute for Environment and Development, in the CBA7 Conference early this year, and has been readily picked up by others.

This study of Climate Asia surveyed 33,500 people from seven Asian countries: Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam. About 3,600 Bangladeshi families were included in this biggest-ever study on people’s perception of climate change.

The study divided people into 5 segments depending upon their responses to climate change: those surviving (finding it too hard to take action), struggling (trying to take action, but finding it very difficult), adapting (acting and wanting to do more), willing (worrying about tomorrow) and unaffected (believe there is no need to do anything).

People in the ‘adapting’ segment are the most informed ones, frequently talk to their friends and have good understanding of climate change as well as its causes. They take more action than people of any other group, the study found.

PAKISTAN LEADING ADAPTATION?

I was quite surprised by the fact that despite having an exciting adaptation image, only 18 percent Bangladeshi’s are ‘adapting’. Pakistan has the highest figure (27 percent), followed by China (26 percent), Vietnam (24 percent) and India (20 percent). Only Nepal (17 percent) and Indonesia (11 percent) are behind Bangladesh.

It is further surprising because 82 percent Bangladeshis had heard of the term ‘climate change’ and 77 percent believed that the climate had been changing over the last decade or so. In Pakistan, by comparison, only 39 percent had ever heard of ‘climate change’ and just 38 percent believed it is happening.

Why are people’s awareness and perceptions in Bangladesh not being translated into actions? Or why is this study not reflecting action, if it is happening?

There are no straightforward answers to these questions. If we explore the huge data available on Climate Asia Data Portal, the complex relationships between perceptions and reality may become clearer. Each respondent’s background and location, the research methodology, the limitations of language and terminology, data interpretation, and, most of all, the purpose of the study, all may give clues.

Climate change is a complex matter, and getting more complex every day. I wonder if our analysis of people’s perceptions is adding to this complexity or reducing it.

Haseeb Md. Irfanullah leads the Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Programme of Practical Action in Bangladesh. He is available at haseeb.irfanullah@practicalaction.org.bd

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