CLIMATE change has no special relevance to SA in the eyes of many South Africans, and it is perceived as an issue only the wealthy can afford to worry about, according to research conducted by the BBC World Service Trust and the British Council.

However, research generally shows that although African citizens are the least responsible for climate change, they will be among the most affected .

The survey, Africa Talks Climate, was conducted among more than 1000 citizens from 10 African countries, including SA.

Interviews were also carried out with nearly 200 opinion leaders, including policy makers, religious and community leaders, business people, and media and nongovernmental organisation representatives.

Fieldwork was carried out between May and November last year and the research was released earlier this year.

In SA, HIV/ AIDS is perceived to dominate government and non governmental organisation agendas, to the detriment of environmental issues.

Most South Africans are aware of climate change, but their understanding of the science is patchy, and the terms "climate change", "global warming" and ozone depletion" are used interchangeably.

Climate change is also used as an umbrella term for environmental destruction, and is viewed by many South Africans as a remote threat which has yet to have a dramatic effect on livelihoods.

Participants were less aware of the potentially far-reaching social and economic consequences of climate change in SA, such as migration, food export revenues and a negative effect on tourism.

Despite recognising SA's contribution to climate change - through its reliance on fossil fuels - participants were reluctant to moderate their lifestyles to reduce carbon emissions, especially as they saw little government or private sector leadership on the issue. "South Africans say that they do not want to sacrifice things important to them (cars or electricity, for example) unless the government assures them that their actions can have a real impact," the survey's authors say.

In addition, environmental destruction is viewed as an inevitable consequence of economic development.

newmarchj@bdfm.co.za