KAMPALA – Climate change is real though not a so recognised and yet the greatest threat to humanity and our mother earth whose effects are and will affect us all. Surely, what won’t affect us much, will at least, affect the future generation if no action is taken. According to the definition by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Climate change refers to changes in climate characteristics, including temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind and severe weather events over long-term periods. Extreme weather events, according to research published by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction in October 2018, already account for 91 per cent of all major disasters and 77 per cent of recorded economic losses from natural disasters.
According to Uganda National Climate Change Policy (2015), Uganda’s mean annual temperatures have risen by 1.30C and annual and seasonal rainfall has reduced significantly since 1960 and has become unpredictable, and less evenly distributed. It is increasingly noted that Uganda is experiencing prolonged periods of dry seasons. Between 1991 and 2000, there were seven droughts in the Karamoja region. So fresh, however, in many minds of Ugandans is the rise of waters of Lake Victoria, the Kasese floods, and the Bulamburi landslides. These and many other extreme events lead to losses and damages of all kinds. For instance, floods in Kasese led to death of people, loss of livelihoods, massive erosion of gardens, unsafe water consumption, also contributed to a range of diseases. The Bulamburi landslides left hundreds of the local people severely hit – some died, some got injuries, some were disabled and some were displaced. With drought, water becomes scarce, crops fail, livestock dies and income drops. The sea level rise of Lake Victoria left many affected, with no homes, transport was disrupted, and gardens destroyed. Furthermore, research shows that climate change has a direct impact on the production and survival of mosquitoes that transmit malaria and dengue responsible for more than 300,000 annual deaths of children under 5 years. Therefore, it is with no doubt that climate change undermines the quality of our lives.
The government, on the other hand, loses money in costs – in appropriation of funds for relief and displacement, and damages. In the 2007/08 fiscal year, climate change damages were equivalent to 4.4% of the national budget, exceeding the budget allocation for the Environment and Natural Resource Sector. It is estimated, without adaptation actions, Uganda is likely to lose between USD 3.2 billion to USD 5.6 billion annually within a decade and between USD 270 and 332 billion over the 40 year period 2010-2050 as costs of the impacts of climate variability and change in the four sectors of agriculture, water, infrastructure, and energy, alone. Unfortunately, however, the damage, losses and costs of climate change are as a result of human activities due to overexploitation and degradation of our natural resources, emissions from burning of fossil fuels and coal. The available data shows that 89.5% of the country’s energy needs are currently met by charcoal and firewood – contributing much to greenhouse gases emissions.
Despite the fact that Uganda is among countries that least contribute to the human-induced greenhouses gases in the atmosphere with its emission by 2015 estimated at 0.0999% much below the global average, it is among the most vulnerable to global warming and the impacts of climate change. The reasons are many however, to name a few, we are among the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) that have lower capacity to cope and adapt to climate change. Besides, Uganda’s economy is largely dependent on tourism and agriculture – the most affected by climate change.
There are many things that can be prevented from occurring and those that can not – at least their effects can be minimised. UNFCCC set out guidelines and disseminated information on the possible actions if we are to deter the increasing effects of Climate change. These can be summarised briefly as mitigation – human interventions to reduce emissions or enhance carbon sinks of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The other one is adaptation – the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects. It includes any spontaneous or planned action taken to cope with the impacts of, or reduce vulnerability to climate change. In its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), Uganda’s priority is adaptation to decrease the vulnerability of its population to climate change by improving early warning systems for disease outbreaks, extending electricity, expanding Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA), improving water efficiency, promoting biodiversity and watershed conservation among others. At the individual level, walking or resorting to cycling, eating more vegetarian meals and less beef and lamb, maximising recycling, and using energy-saving stoves can help reduce on the emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
Climate change affects us all and us all can reverse its trajectory to save humanity. Therefore, we all have a role to play – be it government, private sector, local authorities or us, the public. Our role is simple – make interventions to reduce emission or increase the carbon sinks of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Failure to ambitiously take action will by 2100, according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) put the average global temperature to 3 -50 C which, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.50 C, will bring far higher risks to health livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth.
John Kiwanuka is a graduate of climate change studies and green economy.