News Middle East07 Oct 2019

Middle East:Minority of residents think they could take more action on climate change

07 Oct 2019

Less than half of people in the Middle East think that they or their country could be doing more on climate change, according to a poll by YouGov.

Only 47% of respondents in the UAE and 39% in Saudi Arabia believe that they or their country could take more action on climate change.

Mr Scott Booth, head of data products and services at YouGov MENA, told Arab News, that the low proportion was an area of concern. He added, “This may reflect an attitude in the region that while climate change is a problem, it’s not ‘our’ problem. The likely impact, and thereby the onus for action, has been placed elsewhere.”

In the Middle East, the survey polled public opinion in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar.

Human activity

When asked to describe their views about the global environment, 52% of UAE respondents said they believe that the climate is changing and human activity is mainly responsible. Similarly, 42% of Egyptians stated the same, followed by 35% in Saudi Arabia.

A further 7% of Egyptian and Saudi residents said the climate is changing but human activity is not responsible at all, while 6% of UAE respondents had the same opinion.

Mr Muhammad Ishfaq, a senior economic analyst with the Dubai government’s finance department, told Arab News, “It was a general perception, before cities grew and urbanisation started, that nature was the main cause of climate change.

“Most Middle Easterners still believe nature is the main cause of climate change, as a big part of Saudi Arabia and the UAE was originally populated by nomadic people who experienced only rural development.”

But he said the perception is changing as industrialisation and urbanisation in the UAE, a limited agriculture base and low precipitation, are accentuating the effects of climate change. 

“The frequency and nature of dust storms in the UAE may change the future perception about nature and the causes of climate change as human or natural,” he added.

Education and incentives

Mr Booth said insufficient education is the main obstacle to wider acceptance by Middle Eastern populations that they or their country could be doing more on climate change, as is the case when “trying to get people anywhere in the world to consider and address a problem that doesn’t immediately and obviously impact their daily lives.”

But he added that education will have a limited impact so long as the problem appears unlikely to affect people’s lives directly. 

“Another solution is to create a financial incentive for behaviours that combat the issue: Excise taxes can punish behaviours that are deemed damaging, while credits promote behaviours that positively affect the issue,” he said.

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