Surveys on Environmental Awareness in Laos

Since 2011, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH have been implementing the Promotion

of Climate-related Environmental Education (ProCEEd) project which aims at improving the environmental knowledge, attitudes and practices of villagers and urban decision makers. ProCEEd started with a comprehensive environmental awareness survey in 2012 in order to design its implementation strategy on a sound data basis. The survey’s overall result was that almost all respondents knew little and often had non-consistent attitudes and opinions about climate change, biodiversity and environmental issues. Even decision makers and opinion leaders in government institutions, mass media and academia lacked related expertise or had contradicting attitudes and opinions. Consequently, ProCEEd designed its implementation strategy as a series of short and simple messages over many media and communication channels over a period of years. An infotainment approach that combined information with entertainment was selected to increase emotional identification and make complex themes easier to understand. From 2012 to 2017, ProCEEd has been building the environmental education capacity of the Department of Environmental Quality Promotion (DEQP) at MoNRE and the civil society organization PADETC. Staff and volunteers have been trained in interactive education methods and media such as games, contests, theatre, puppet shows, films etc. in addition to informative poster series, demonstrations, focus group discussions and other participatory rapid appraisal tools. Their newly acquired skills have then been practiced in environmental education tours to ProCEEd’s approximately 50 target villages in Khammouane, Houaphanh and Sayabouri as well as six district and province capitals. ProCEEd has also addressed low environmental awareness by cooperating with Lao mass media to improve environmental journalism.


As ProCEEd’s second phase is coming to an end in Sptember 2017, project partners were curious whether gains in knowledge, attitud
e or practice changes can be observed that can be attributed to the project. Therefore, ProCEEd conducted a follow-up survey in late 2016 and early 2017. At 216 focus group discussions and 1,413 individual interviews, this survey reached a similar number of respondents as the one in 2012. Results show that 84% of the respondents have participated in ProCEEd’s environmental tours, and 64% have consumed ProCEEd-supported media productions. Major results of the survey are outlined below.




The climate change knowledge of respondents who participated intensively in environmental tours improved by 22% since 2012. Consumers of ProCEEd mass media products show an improvement of 17%. The more often these products were consumed, the higher was the knowledge gained (up to 22%). Compared to 2012, respondents today feel better informed on environment issues. The number of tour participants who believe they have enough information on climate change has increased from 4% to 19% , even to 26% if they participated in several tours. Similar results are found for deforestation and species extinction: 6% vs. 28% and 4% vs 20%, respectively, with intensive participation. The number of those who believed they have information on climate change increased from 57% to 82%-92%, depending on the intensity of participation in the tours.


But there are also findings which do not reflect the general knowledge gains. For example, the number of those who regard deforestation as an immediate result of climate change has increased from 65% to 76%.




The assumption that increased knowledge will necessarily lead to improved attitudes in the long run is weakly reflected in this survey - as in other such surveys worldwide. People participating at least once in ProCEEd’s environmental tours show a 2% improvement of environmental attitudes in comparison to 2012. However, those who intensively participated in the tours show an improvement of 5%. Environmental attitudes improved by 2% among consumers of mass media products. The more often these products were consumed, the higher is the improvement (up to 5%). This illustrates that attitude can be changed, but that this needs intensive exposure to environmental education and awareness raising. Four years is too short a period for achieving extensive attitude changes.


Looking at examples of specific questions reveals a differentiated picture of environmental attitudes. Compared to 2012, 8-11% more respondents do not agree with the statement that nature has to be acknowledged for the benefit of the people. The difference, again, depends on the intensity of the participation in ProCEEd's environmental tours. Another 11-14% more respondents do not believe that environmental damage can be easily compensated by technology, and 18-21% more participants believe that species should not be lost to meet human needs. Respondents who joined the tours increasingly recognize environmental problems as a risk to their livelihood. The number of those wishing for a larger role of environmental organizations to solve environmental problems increased by 15%, and those who claim to be willing to work with an environmental organization by about 13%. Audiences of ProCEEd media productions are increasingly recognizing environmental problems as a risk to their livelihoods, too, e.g. climate change + 26%, species of life + 24%, environmental pollution + 25%.




Unexpectedly, however, the survey revealed that despite increased environmental knowledge and improved attitudes the environmental practices have deteriorated since 2012. Practices that have a negative impact on the environment have increased by 46%. This is mostly driven by increased wildlife consumption and agricultural production practices, e.g. 15% more respondents today consume wildlife meat on a daily or weekly basis. The respondents’ reliance on forests products has increased since 2012. This particularly concerns wildlife as a food source (+33%), timber for local use (+22%), and traditional medicines (+14%).


An interpretation of these findings based on self-statements by respondents is not easy. The data comparison from 2012 to 2016 shows a sharp increase in income and living standards. The majority of the people  - 61% today vs. 24% in 2012 - "can buy expensive things like a refrigerator" or "all the things they want”. This may be an indicator that people are moving away from subsistence farming and are generating a higher income through timber, wildlife and forest product usage and sale which causes more pressure on natural resources. One methodological reason may be found in respondents' increased trust in the project over time which may have led to more honest answers in comparison to the ones given in 2012.


Conclusions and Lessons Learned


Considering the low level of knowledge and the environmentally harmful attitudes that prevailed in 2012, ProCEEd is proud of its achievements so far. A large number of government and civil society organizations' staff and volunteers have been enabled to successfully implement environmental education activities.  The results of the surveys are a reminder, however, that educators need patience and perseverance to achieve their goals. They also need to see their efforts combined with other measures such as livelihood improvement and law enforcement. For DEQP and PADETC, the survey results are a confirmation that they are on the right track and an encouragement to keep up their dedicated and hard work. The ProCEEd project will utilize study findings to adjust its future activities. Up-to-date information on the ProCEEd project can be found at