Most Malaysians favour reducing emissions, but lack faith in climate action

Only one in ten Malaysians are optimistic that humans can successfully limit climate change, a recent survey found. Scientists are the most trusted sources of climate information, journalists among the least.

Malaysia crowd of people
More than half of Malaysians blieve that the country should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do, a study by Monash Malaysia's Climate Change Communications Research Hub found. Image: Ravin Rao/ Unsplash

To a majority of Malaysians, climate change is not only a known fact but something that needs to be acted upon by policymakers and individuals, according to a new report. 

60 per cent of more than 1,000 respondents in a recent survey believe that Malaysia should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do, found a survey by the Monash Climate Change and Communications Research Hub (MCCCRH), a new research institute that studies climate change communication.

The results are aligned with the government’s pledge to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent from its 2005 baseline by 2005, MCCCRH said in its report published on Tuesday.

According to Malaysia’s biennial update report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 2022, the country has achieved a 32 per cent reduction in emissions from 2017 to 2019. Reducing deforestation and sustainable forest management accounted for about 8 per cent of the reduction.

MCCCRH’s survey also found that 97 per cent of Malaysians are sure that climate change is happening and more than 80 per cent find climate change alarming or concerning. These respondents believe that climate policies are needed in the near term to address these impacts, the report said.

“The majority, however, are unaware of what they or others may do to resolve the issue,” the report said. Just under a half of respondents (45 per cent) were pessimistic, believing that while humans could reduce climate change, people are not willing to change their behaviour.

“Only 10 per cent of our respondents are actually optimistic that humans can reduce climate change and that we are going to do so successfully,” the report said.

However, most Malaysians surveyed were already changing their own habits to reduce emissions and fight climate change. Although over 80 per cent agreed that the government should incentivise people towards climate action, 60 per cent also believe “we can all do our bit to reduce the effects of climate change.”

Popular individual actions included reducing the amount of electricity used at home (79 per cent), recycling (67 per cent), bringing their own bags when buying groceries (65 per cent) and switching to environmentally-friendly products (63 per cent).

The survey, conducted in July and August 2022, was aimed at discovering how information about climate change could be communicated more easily and effectively to the Malaysian public. The demographic of respondents mirrored the national population distributions across age, gender, location and ethnicity.

Social media and scientists are preferred

MCCCRH asked Malaysians who they trust for information about climate change, with 86 per cent naming scientists as their most trusted source, followed closely by environmental groups and academic journals or publications.

Journalists were among the least trusted sources of information about climate change, ranking just above friends and family as well as religious groups.

“Malaysians are worried that misinformation and fake news are being communicated to them and that media practitioners are spreading disinformation or exaggerating the contents of their reports,” the report said, citing communications firm Edelman’s 2022 Trust Barometer report.

The most popular platform for news and information was social media at 86 per cent, followed by chat apps (81 per cent) and online news portals (72 per cent). Newspapers were least favoured, with 21 per cent not reading printed news at all.

“To conduct more national and regional level interventions on climate change at a population level in Malaysia, policy makers, non-government organisations and governments in and outside of Malaysia may find it helpful to build on our baseline work and tailor communication messages using the mass and social media we have outlined,” MCCCRH said.

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