Do Indians care about climate change? Here’s what our survey found. | Mint

Do Indians care about climate change? Here’s what our survey found.

All but 5% of respondents agreed that India’s climatic patterns had seen at least some changes in the past two decades (Photo: Getty Images)
All but 5% of respondents agreed that India’s climatic patterns had seen at least some changes in the past two decades (Photo: Getty Images)

Summary

  • A majority of Indians acknowledge the urgency of India’s role in addressing climate change, amid other pressing issues. Many also think nature is resilient enough to set itself right.

Most Indians acknowledge the dangers of climate change and are willing to make an extra effort to mitigate it with sustainable life choices, but also want the government to take responsibility, a new survey showed. Heat waves and extreme rainfall events were seen as the biggest signs of a changing climate.

The telephonic survey, which had 10,779 respondents across 25 states and Union territories, and across educational groups, was conducted by Mint in collaboration with Development Intelligence Unit, a tie-up between Sambodhi, a research group, and Transforming Rural India, a non-profit.

Despite the high levels of awareness that the survey revealed, many Indians also felt that nature was strong enough to heal itself.

1. Climate perception

All but 5% of respondents agreed that India’s climatic patterns had seen at least some changes in the past two decades. The share of those who perceived significant changes in the climate was greater in urban India (46%) than in rural parts (38%). The rest reported that the climate had changed “somewhat". Men (46%) were more likely to report significant climatic changes than women (38%).

Two in three urban Indians said India was already feeling the effects of climate change, while 28% felt the harms were still some way into the future. About 38% of urban respondents and 31% of rural ones showed high concern about India's worsening climate patterns. However, nearly half of respondents also said that nature was strong enough to manage the negative effects caused by humans, showing many Indians are yet to come to grips with full range of potential dangers posed by climate change.

2. Weather signals

Studies have confirmed that human activities have increased the frequency and severity of extreme weather events that serve as primary indicators of changing climate.

Respondents who said they had seen India’s climatic patterns change in the past 20 years were also asked what made them say so. A rise in heat waves and extended summers emerged as the most common trigger behind the perception, with 48% of urban and 46% of rural respondents agreeing to it.

This was closely followed by excessive rainfall (46% urban, 43% rural). About one-third of respondents found recurring droughts to be a sign of climate change and nearly 30% of rural respondents cited crop failure. One in five Indians saw drinking water and food shortages as an indication of climate change.

Meanwhile, a large share—over 40%—expressed concerns about potential health impacts on both present and future generations if climate change mitigation measures were not implemented immediately.

3. Sustainable living

Around 74% urban and 55% rural respondents were aware about either climate change or global warming. Most got their information from television; just 43% sought information independently.

Is this awareness critical to influencing eco-friendly behaviour? Yes, the survey suggested. It asked respondents whether were engaged in common pro-sustainability actions in their daily lives.

A large majority, both in urban (91%) and rural (90%) areas, said they tried to reduce water wastage, and carried their own bags to buy groceries (89%). The adoption of energy-efficient appliances was also common (urban: 84%, rural: 76%).

However, the responses were different among those who knew about climate change and those who didn’t. Those who were aware of the term claimed to engage in an average 6.5 out of 11 eco-friendly activities listed out in the survey; the rest picked only 5.7.

4. Biggest causes

The survey asked respondents which harmful activities they saw as the biggest culprits behind environmental degradation in India. Around 71% found deforestation had a high negative impact, followed by the rising number of vehicles on roads (60%), industrial pollution (59%), and poor waste management (43%).

Around 39% of urban respondents also said burning of fossil fuels to meet the escalating energy demand had a high impact, but this share was only 17% in rural India.

This is particularly critical for India, where over 70% of the energy requirement relies on coal, a fossil fuel known for damaging the environment of which India is also one of the largest producers and consumers. Rampant construction activities (32%) and the burning of agricultural stubble (28%) had fewer opponents.

Coincidentally, nearly 80% of the respondents said banning polluting vehicles and reducing plastic use were essential steps towards addressing climate change problems.

5. Accountability vs responsibility

Although a majority (74%) agreed that climate change is a global concern and India should play its part in tackling it, 49% believed that environmental damage was an inevitable consequence of India’s growing economy.

Interestingly, despite 75% saying it was possible to make individual efforts to make our lifestyle more climate-friendly, most (urban: 54%, rural: 57%) pinned the primary responsibility of combating climate change on the government.

A significant proportion (54%) believed that developed countries, which are responsible for historical greenhouse gas emissions that have significantly contributed to global warming, should take primary ownership for resolving the issue of climate change. 

A slightly smaller share, about 46%, expressed the belief that climate change is unavoidable, while 44% felt that India has more urgent priorities to address. But that also means large shares of respondents also disagreed with these viewpoints: a positive in the collective fight against climate change.

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