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Ascertainment of students’ understanding of, and reaction to climate change in ghana (case study of university of cape coast, ghana)





Climate change has become an environmentally threatening phenomenon. An effective strategy which can help tackle the issue is the concern and action by the human beings who are noted to be the main cause and affected by the problem. Public actions can only be likely where the tendency to behave and response is made more vibrant. However, the presence of poor understanding of climate change poses much more difficulty in explaining and eliciting people’s expected action and concern to the issue. This can weaken and annul efforts towards adaptation and mitigation.

The World Health Organization (WHO, 2003), has indicated that “climate change has become a distinctive and signi cant addition to the range of environmental hazards encountered by humankind”. The United Nations (UN, 2010) also observes that global pursuit for sustainable development is under serious threat because of the impact of climate change. There are increasing evidence that suggests that most places in the world will be transformed and lost through the impacts of a changing climate (Adger, Dessai, Marisa, Goulden, Hulme, Lorenzoni, Nelson, Naess,Wolf, Wreford, 2009). Urgent action is thus expected of mankind to tackle this danger (IPCC, 2014).

Climate change connotes a change in climate over a period of time, usually a decade or more due to nature and/or human activities (UNFCCC 2007, IPCC 2007). Most scientists such as Eboh (2009); Anyadike (2009);

Hönisch,Ridgwell, Schmidt, Thomas, Samantha, Gibbs,…,Williams(2012); Ashton (2002) and scientific research institutions (Pew Centreon Global Climate Change PCGCC (2009), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, NOAA(2007) etc. have also offered similar meaning.

“There are a lot of research findings and predictions which supports the manifestation of climate change. For instance, the International Panel of Climate Change” (IPCC, 2013) has revealed that global temperature has increased by about 2.0 Degree Celsius over the last 100 years; sea levels are rising and extreme events such as heat waves, heavy rainfall and shrinking Artic sea ice are all occurring. The panel has also predicted more gloomy times ahead as well. These findings and predictions have been acknowledged by most scientists (see Hönisch et al. 2012, National Research Council 2013, NOAA 2013).

The Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) and Human Induced theories of climate change all attributes climate change to human activities (Blasts 2010). Thus, demanding significant efforts from human beings on its related issues such as water stress, species extinction, low productivity, floods, food insecurity, diseases and many others (WHO 2003, IPCC 2014). The already existing non-climate change induced underdevelopment of Africa is increasingly being worsened by the impacts of climate change (UNFCCC 2007). Africa is highly susceptible to the impacts of climate change due to high poverty and dependency on rain-fed agriculture (Dixon, Smith & Guill (2013), “illiteracy, weak institutions, limited infrastructure, limited technology and information, poor access to resources, low management capabilities, land degradation, overexploitation of natural resources, over-population and many others” (UN 2010).

The effects of climate change in Africa has manifested in the alarming rate of diseases (Guernier, Hochberg, & Guegan2004; WHO 2004), water scarcity and stress (Ashton 2002), hunger ( Fischer 2002) conflicts and wars (Harrus & Baneth, 2005; Ashton, 2002), drought and flooding (Few, Ahern, Matthies, & Kovats 2004; Nicholls 2004; McMichael et al. 2008 and Christensen et al. 2007), migration (Adger et al 2009), and famine (Boko, Niang, Nyong, Vogel, Githeko, Medany, Osman-Elasha, Tabo & Yanda, 2007).

Global efforts to fight climate change can be traced few decades ago. In 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) was constituted to unify efforts of individual countries in order to have a global synergy towards fighting climate change (UNFCCC 2014). Regional commitments have manifested through financial, technical supports and many others. The UNFCCC, constituted in 1992, was to consider the strategies to tackle climate change. Treaties and other proceedings by the UNFCCC resulted in the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1995 which legally binds member countries to emission reduction targets. The Protocol’s first commitment begun in 2008 to 2012 and is expected to re-run through to 2020 which will mark the end of the second commitment (UNFCCC, 2014). These developments and many others clearly indicate that climate change has become a global concern.

Ghana is no exception to the incidence and threats of climate change. Historical climate data for the past few decades show a noticeable rise in temperature and accompanying variability in rainfall throughout the country. Mean annual temperature has been increasing and rainfall has been experiencing significant decreases over the past few decades (Government of Ghana,

 GoG,2011; McSweeney, New, & Lizcano. (n.d.), temperature is predicted to rise to an average of 2 Degree Celsius and rainfall is also predicted to decrease by more than 11 percent within the next few decades (GOG 2007). According to Minia (2008), and Dontwi &Buabeng (2008), these changes and their worse forms are expected to hit the country in the foreseeable future.

The impacts of climate change on the people and the economy of Ghana have already attracted a lot of concerns. Climate change is putting stress on natural resources (Dontwi et al 2008), river, stream systems and power generational problems (Gyau-Boakye 2001) and contributing to flooding (Brown and Crawford 2008). Other projected impacts include that on water and food insecurity, power supply problems (E-parl 2008, GoG 2007), flooding (Brown & Crawford 2008), migration (Geest &Jeu, 2008), intensifying poverty and health related problems (DANIDA 2008) and ultimately on reduced socio- economic growth and development.

Communication and education on climate change begun, and has been intensifying, since the 1980s when climate change first emerged on the public agenda. Communication serves as a means of increasing the cognitive capacity of the individual ( Pruneau, Khattabi & Demers 2010), ensuring greater public understanding and engagement on climate policy and issues (Ockwell, Whitmarsh & O’neil, 2009; PCGCC 2009 and Leiserowitz, Maibach, Roser- Renouf & Smith, 2010a), tackling the current and potential effects of climate change (Frumkin & McMichael, 2008; Commonwealth Secretariat, 2009) and bridging the gap between science and society (Fischhoff, 2007).

The degree at which a nation can mitigate or adapt to climate change highly depends on public engagement (Moser 2008a, see alsoEkman & Amna

2009). It has been observed that early climate change communication mechanisms were not effective because they focused on scientific findings reports (Weart 2003). Bak (2001)and Sturgis & Allum (2004) attribute this to the fact that communicators relied on the information deficit model which explains the lack of public engagement to insufficient information and understanding of the people. The model basically advocates for more information and explanation to people in order to elicit action.

Moscovi’s (1984) Social Representation Theory (SRT) proposes that appreciating public understanding on climate change can be very important in the climate change communication and engagement mechanisms. Leiserowitz, Maibach &Roser, (2008), Shome & Max, (2009) and Moser (2010) support this claim by advocating for more research on public understanding. They add that such research would be more relevant when they are focused on understanding the experiences and perception of people. The absence of this will still elicit low public response ( Exley and Christie, 2003)

Civic, youthful engagement and adaptation and mitigation issues cannot be discussed in isolation. Young people are likely to be engaged in social issues if the issues are relevant to their lived experiences (Brady, Dolan, Kearns, Kennan, McGrath, Shaw and Brennan, 2012). Brennan (2008) reveals that recognizing youth resiliency is a greater resource for community and national adaptive capacities and well-being. The World Bank (2002) adds that students play critical roles in supporting knowledge-driven economic growth strategies, national innovation system, and the construction of democratic, socially cohesive societies and serves as a country’s main informed populace.

In the quest to achieve sustainable development, University students are identified as a nation’s best hope and most effective resource (Weehen, 2000). They are potential change makers, policy implementers and effective tools for making strategic national decisions (Gellin 2003). It will thus be very prudent to uncover the disposition of University students on climate change issues in Ghana.


Public understanding, knowledge and research are noted as critical tools to tackle human-induced climate change (Moser 2010).Public resistance to changing relevant behaviours remains a key issue for research,  especially given apparent increases in public awareness of the scientific  arguments (Exley & Christie, 2003).

Public reactions and engagement to climate change remains noticeably incomplete in Ghana. Leiserowitz, Maibach & Roser, (2008) and Shome & Max, (2009) suggest that research should focus on understanding the views, attitudes and beliefs of the local people for effective communication (see also Crompton & Kasser, 2010). However according to Jaspal et al (2014), that is not the existing practice. There is little empirical evidence to support the efficacy of communication and public understanding of climate change (Pidgeon& Fischhoff 2011).

The few available researches have been largely focused on the western world and marginalised vulnerable African countries like Ghana (BBC 2009, Shahadu, 2012, Leiserowitz 2007).Though previous researches have indicated that he Ghanaian public do not understand climate change that cannot justify that for University students. University students are special groups with muchexposure to knowledge and information sources. In addition, earlier research in Ghana has not given emphasis to how people’s understandings are translated to responses. It is in this regard that a research into the understanding of and responses to climate change of University students with emphasis on experiences and beliefs has become imperative.


The aim of this study is to assess students’ understanding and reaction to climate change, thus, the following objectives;

  1. Examine students’ understanding and knowledge of climate change.
  2. Determine students’ level of acceptance of climate change as an environmental issue.
  3. Describe the students’ responses to climate change messages, adaptation, and mitigation issues.


The following questions guide this study;

  1. What are the levels of the students’understanding and knowledge on climate change?
  2. To what extent have the students assimilated and accepted climate change as an environmental problem?

3.How are the students responding to demands for adaptation and mitigation and behaviour change?


The importance of this research cannot be underestimated. This research will contribute to existing but limited literature or knowledge on climate change particularly within the social science discipline. It will also help various stakeholders to understand and appreciate how the public, particularly, literate and intellectuals are responding to the issue. The findings from the study will

 also help to develop better and strategic communicative tools to elicit expected responses. It will be a viable tool to make recommendations to University and Education authorities to consider effecting certain curricula and co-curricular modifications. It is anticipated that this study will improve adaptation and mitigation efforts and bring about sustainable living. Most importantly, the study will identify the level of responses of the students towards climate change that are important to policy and environmental sustainability.


The study was limited to University students at the University of Cape Coast located within the Cape Coast metropolis in the Central Region of Ghana. The study acknowledged the pressing and the urgent need for contemporary Ghana and the world at large to find solutions to a serious environmental problem like climate change. The study was specifically interested in adaptation and mitigation action responses to climate change. It argues that perception and understanding of an issue does not necessarily guarantee action. Due to the objective of the research, the study was limited to the understanding and responses among students. Understanding and knowledge was measured in terms of comparison with internationally accepted definition whiles assimilation and responses were measured using their agreement to issues and practice of pro-climate change activities.


The research acknowledges the fact that University students in Ghana are spread out in almost every region of the country, and that even within the University of Cape Coast, the courses and programmes are numerous and diverse, resource constraints and time did not allow all of them to be included in the study. Because the research was focused on gathering data on large respondents, bearing in mind the limitedness of time, data collection instruments was limited to questionnaire administration.


CLIMATE CHANGE:Climate change includes both global warming driven by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases and the resulting large-scale shifts in weather patterns.


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