Adam Corner

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Hidden Heat: Report Published Today

In Climate Change, Uganda on September 27, 2011 at 7:14 am

I’m really pleased to announce that my report on the challenges and opportunities of communicating climate change in Ugandan, ‘Hidden Heat’, is published today by Panos Eastern Africa.

The report is the result of 30 interviews with key climate change communicators in Uganda – from journalists and editors, civil society representatives, policy-makers, researchers, campaigners and scientists.

I would like to thank everyone who took part in the interviews – too many to list here but all identified in the report.

I would also like to thank Panos Eastern Africa – especially Peter Okubal, Lucy Atim and Paul Kimumwe – for their hard work and support in making this research project happen, and Nick Pidgeon (Cardiff University) and his Leverhulme Trust grant for supporting the costs of the project.

I’d be very keen to hear from anyone with any comments on the report – so please get in touch on the blog if you want to discuss any of it.



A positive vision for sustainable development?

In Climate Change, politics, Uganda on May 16, 2011 at 12:06 pm

In the polluting nations, one of the major challenges for public engagement on climate change is that people perceive tackling climate change to involve sacrifice. Using a bus instead of a private car usually means a journey will be longer; saving energy at home means making an effort to change personal behaviour and habits. It has been a struggle to interest people in climate change because campaigners spend a lot of time telling people what they shouldn’t do – but much less time telling people what they should do instead.

In Uganda, there is a similar challenge to overcome. Most environmental messages tell people what they should not do – cutting trees, dumping litter in the streets, or building on wetlands. Most people do not want to act in a way that is environmentally destructive, but they often have very limited choices.

The problem for most people is that there is no obvious alternative: there is no positive vision for sustainable development.

As Ronald Musoke, an environmental journalist, explains:

“It is a very big challenge, this thing called sustainable development, because with more that 80% of our population directly dependent on the environment for their basic survival, telling them about conservation is going to be a challenge if you are not giving them options. If you tell somebody not to cultivate a wetland because it has repercussions for their environment, he will need an alternative, but where is that alternative land for him to cultivate?”

The biggest problem here is not communication – but that there is often nothing to communicate. For most people, their options are genuinely very limited. But slowly, alternatives are beginning to be developed. Energy-efficient cooking stoves are being distributed more widely, solar panels are now available (although they are expensive) and (more controversially), schemes that pay people to keep trees standing rather than chop them down are starting to emerge. As Susan Nanduddu, of the development NGO DENIVA says:

“People want to contribute positively, but the options are limited. It is important to give them a picture of alternatives. What can they do even with their limited alternatives, to work in a more sustainable manner? If you communicate that, maybe they will start doing something about it.”

So what does sustainable development in Uganda mean? Is the future for Uganda one that looks like industrialised countries, but with giant solar farms and hydro-electric dams instead of coal power stations? Or is there a different model for Uganda, one that sticks with agriculture but improves the capacity of it to generate value, by not just selling raw materials but making more processed foods?

Linda Nassanga, from the Mass Communication department at Makerere University, suggests that Uganda cannot simply copy the model of industrialisation that worked for the West:

“The rich countries are rich because they industrialized but they had an advantage which we don’t. We have advantages but we don’t use them because of the mentality that agriculture is something low class. We don’t realize the potential that it can have to boost the whole economy. So that is still missing because although we want to industrialize, the industries are not there. And who is going to buy the things?”

Where is the market for industrial goods in Uganda?

While few would dispute that Uganda is blessed with fertile land and the perfect climate for agriculture, young people in Uganda are increasingly moving away from farming as a ‘traditional’ way of life and embracing urbanisation and industrialisation.  Unfortunately, this has not yet delivered prosperity in Uganda, as Professor Oweyegha Afunaduula, of NAPE, explains:

“In our poor countries what is happening is that villages are being transplanted in to the cities… people are coming for higher standards, but you won’t find them there. And these people who have migrated are the ones who populate the streets. Poverty moves around like a snake: during the day it moves into the city centre, during the night it goes back to the periphery where you will find 80% of the people don’t have latrines, 80% of the people don’t have clean water, 80% of people are children are not attending school”

People clearly have the right to develop their livelihoods from subsistence farming and to access standards of living that many other nations enjoy. But Professor Afunaduula’s argument is that a higher standard of living will not be achieved by the rural poor flocking to the cities. So what form will development take – should farming be abandoned altogether as a ‘low status’ occupation, or should the agricultural sector drive development in Uganda? Can Uganda’s fertile lands feed the rest of Africa?

These are big questions, but it is critical that they are not simply left for policymakers to consider. Ownership over Uganda’s future and sustainable development is something that every citizen should have a stake in. Without something better to believe in – and access to practical alternatives – people will continue cutting trees, building on wetlands and destroying the Ugandan natural environment.

“The biggest unreported story of our times”

In Climate Change, Media, Uganda on March 14, 2011 at 11:55 am

The African continent has had more than its fair share of major disasters. Some, like the Rwandan genocide in 1994, captured the attention of the world media, and have become embedded in many Westerners’ concept of ‘Africa’.

Others receive sporadic attention but drop off the news agenda because they are not easily explainable in a two minute news item. Millions of people have been killed in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo over the past decade, although few outside of Africa could give you a detailed explanation of these events.

Given Africa’s battle-scarred recent history, you might expect the lack of stories on African conflicts to be the most glaring omission in international media reporting. But according to Daniel Kalinake, the Managing Editor of the Daily Monitor, Uganda’s leading independent newspaper, climate change has now surpassed conflict as the most unreported issue facing Africa:

“I think climate change is the biggest under-reported, or unreported story of our times… and yet if you look around, then the critical evidence suggest that not only are the effects of climate change already being felt, they are (worsening) within the next few years. We’re talking within the decade, or the next two decades, they’re going to become really huge game-changers for societies in Africa…”

One of the reasons that climate change has remained low down the media agenda (both within and outside of Africa) is that woven into the fabric of climate change is a sort of self-defeating invisibility cloak. It blends seamlessly into existing climatic patterns, exacerbating and intensifying their power.

Perhaps the single most dangerous feature of climate change is the fact that it does not lend itself to detection until it is too late. The very signs that alert you to the presence of climate change – an increase in deaths from extreme weather events, or a lengthening of drought periods – are the impacts you are trying to prevent. As Kalinake puts it:

“…Stories on (the) environment…and to a lesser extent public health, by the time they grab your attention, really it’s too late. If you’re reporting the outbreak of an epidemic then you are several months, several years too late. And we have seen that here in terms of the HIV/AIDS epidemic…I think we need in the media to be proactive on climate change, because if you wait for the dry season to last 9 months instead of 6 months, the consequences are going to be very bad. It’s going to be too late. And by that time, you can’t reverse it…”

But there is another reason that climate change is not making the headlines in Uganda, despite the fact that the climate is already changing, and that a moderate increase in average temperatures (now almost inevitable) is likely to decimate Uganda’s vital coffee industry: the issue is not yet well understood by the African media.

Catherine Mwesigwa Kizza, the Deputy Editor of the New Vision, the popular Ugandan daily partly owned by the government, suggests that the problem lies not only with the lack of specialism among journalists, but also higher up the food chain:

“Most of us in the newsroom come from completely Arts backgrounds, so the science of climate change, for most of us…we don’t know….committing resources to training, that is key. I think in development journalism training, the biggest loophole has been that most people who give that training focus on the journalists, and forget the editors. And yet the editors make the day to day decisions…if the editors are left in the dark, how are they going to get it?”

In the UK, many editors would claim to ‘get’ climate change, but many have tried – misleadingly – to squeeze climate change into the ‘two sides to every story’ format of modern Western journalism. There is essentially no debate in serious scientific circles about the basic question of whether human actions are altering the climate, yet news organisations have insisted on giving thousands of column inches to ‘sceptics’, in the name of journalistic balance.

Editors are in a critical position to shape and craft the news agenda. In Uganda, newspaper editors can play a role in raising the profile of climate change – but training and sensitisation will need to be directed specifically at them, rather than just the journalists covering the environmental beat. As Kalinake says,

“…We basically need to move climate change and the environment to the mainstream. It has to be competing with politics, with corruption. On the front pages of the newspapers.”

People know that the climate is changing in Uganda, but few understand why or know what to do about it. Awareness and engagement needs to cascade down from the newspaper-reading urban elite to the radio programmes on local FM radios (who lift their news directly from the printed press). Only when climate change takes its rightful place on the front pages of African newspapers, will the rest of society catch on.

Seeing REDD in Uganda

In Climate Change, climate justice, Indigenous knowledge, politics, trees, Uganda on February 28, 2011 at 9:18 am

If you close your eyes very tightly and try squinting at climate change using the narrowest possible perspective, you can almost make out what look like some benefits of climate change in certain parts of the world. In the short term, crop yields in the Northern hemisphere are likely to be improved, while for tired old seaside resorts in the South of England, a few extra degrees of summer temperature would be a blessing.

A British beach on a beautiful summer's day

But for the overwhelming majority of the world’s inhabitants, climate change is not something to celebrate, and in Uganda, few people are able to identify any benefits of a changing climate. As Ronald Musoke, a freelance environmental journalist puts it:

“Maybe in the future, especially if we get serious and get on top of the issue and give it the attention it deserves, there may be opportunities that present themselves… (But) at the moment, I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel as far as climate change is concerned.”

The pessimism is understandable – Uganda is facing the infuriating challenge of adapting to a problem it didn’t cause. But could there really be future opportunities for Uganda in climate change?

Something that has been gathering an increasing amount of momentum in the UNFCCC negotiations on climate change is REDD – a mechanism for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. In a nutshell, REDD is supposed to allow developing countries with critical resources like rainforests (which absorb carbon, and are known as ‘carbon-sinks’) to receive payment from polluting nations in order to keep those forests intact, or to embark on programmes of tree planting to help absorb some of the world’s excess carbon.

The idea is that if they are valued appropriately, trees are worth more alive than they are dead. On the surface, it sounds like a promising method of tackling climate change whilst transferring wealth to developing countries. And in theory, there are real, tangible benefits to be had from the ‘carbon-credits’ locked up in Uganda’s trees, as well as huge potential for increasing revenue by planting more.

But in reality, there are serious concerns about REDD – and who will be the real beneficiaries. It is telling that the people who are most excited about REDD are not the inhabitants of forest communities, but the movers and shakers of the burgeoning carbon-trading sector – because trees with price tags are valuable commodities.

As Robert Bakiika, of the Environmental Management for Livelihood Improvement in Kampala, says, there is an inherent danger in locking critical community resources like forests up in complex financing mechanisms driven by international pressure for market-based solutions to climate change:

“There is a very, very big danger in involving most of our developing countries in financial mechanisms because financial mechanisms are so tricky. And our counterparts the developed countries have designed the system. They have designed the system and we are just players in a system.”

One of the biggest issues is that REDD is a very knowledge-intensive field – with most of the technical expertise located far away from the communities who will be directly impacted by it. The danger is that government officials, lacking the technical capacity to identify risks in REDD programmes, will promote them to rural communities, and rural communities, eager to reap the financial reward from selling their carbon-credits, will sign away their carbon rights.

One important resource in helping ensure that REDD benefits not only the carbon-traders, but also the communities who depend on the forests, is a new initiative called – an international network that seeks to champion the rights of the global south in the REDD debate. Top of the list of priorities is increasing the level of participation of community and civil society organisations from countries like Uganda in the policy discussions about REDD. Without a seat at the negotiating table, these critical stakeholders have no voice.

But there is also some understandable opposition to the very concept of carbon credits in Uganda. Ronald Musoke explains:

“Our President, he seems to have the view, that ‘why should they tell us to keep our forests when they themselves first destroyed the environment for getting the level they earn currently, why can’t we be given the chance?’…of course that is flawed, it is quite flawed…you don’t go through the same pattern you went through during the industrial revolution…but for him he thinks that we should be given the opportunity to destroy our environment in the name of development”

Musoke is correct that the President’s argument is flawed – destroying the environment in the name of development will not deliver the kind of long-term and sustainable changes that Uganda needs. But it is also a pretty compelling argument from the perspective of a nation desperate to develop. Doesn’t the logic of REDD look suspiciously like an attempt to permit the developed world to carry on polluting while the developing world tends to its trees?

Without practical, well-funded alternatives to the model of industrialisation that the developed nations have pursued, countries like Uganda cannot be expected not to exploit the natural resources in their forests. It is all very well paying people to keep their trees alive – but that is the beginning, not the end of the international community’s responsibility. Technology transfer, and capacity building needs to be massively scaled-up. It is not enough to price up the world’s forests and hope the market will deliver climate justice.

Politicising climate change in Uganda

In Climate Change, climate justice, politics, Uganda on February 16, 2011 at 9:57 am

In Uganda the average carbon footprint is less than 1 tonne of CO2 per year. In the US it is 20 tonnes. The average Ugandan will tell you instantly that the climate has changed – that the rains are unpredictable, the droughts are longer, and the temperatures are hotter. It is not politically controversial. In the US, a growing number of people think that climate change is a gigantic conspiracy aimed at curtailing their consumption – it is a political hot potato.

Given these stark differences in who is causing – and who is taking responsibility for – climate change, you could forgive Ugandans for being angry with the polluting nations for creating (and then deny responsibility for) a problem that Ugandans are now dealing with. But in fact, simmering resentment towards the industrialised countries is nowhere to be seen.

Why aren’t people angry about the deep injustice of climate change? Part of the answer is the very pragmatic way that climate change is understood in Uganda.

For many people in developed nations, climate change represents a direct challenge to their consumer self-identity. Previously mundane decisions about travel and energy use are now angst filled trade-offs. But in Uganda, climatic changes need rapid and effective solutions – practical measures must be put in place to ensure that the Ugandan environment remains as resilient as possible to the changes that are being forced on it.

You don’t find many Ugandans debating whether climate change is a political conspiracy. If you bury your head in the sand in Uganda, your crops will have failed by the time you re-emerge. According to James Tumusiime, the Editor of the bi-weekly national newspaper The Observer, the debate in Uganda has not really reached an intellectual level of trying to dissect what climate change means. People are concerned with much more immediate concerns – like ensuring that their families are housed and fed.

But while this practical and localised approach to climate change is impressive and understandable, some activists are concerned that a critical element of the climate change debate is missing in Uganda. Sarah Kisolo, of the Rural Development Media and Communication organisation, argues that climate change should be more politicised, because if it is not, then people will never fully understand how important it is:

“People are not knowledgeable. They are not aware…If climate change was politicised, then it would generate a debate….then they would demonstrate, they would shout, and people can feel it.”

Susan Nanduddu, Programme Assistant for Climate Change with the civil society umbrella organisation DENIVA, suggests that powerful political forces are shaping the way that Uganda is able to respond to climate change – but these forces are invisible to the ordinary citizen, as they take place behind the closed doors or the UNFCCC climate change negotiations:

 “The international community has an obligation to respond surely, to (financially) support these communities…(But) that ends up being a very sensitive issue. For example, the United States doesn’t even want to hear that information. They just don’t want to… The moment those around the table, the negotiating tables, turn around and they speak as donors, not as UNFCCC parties, then the language changes, unfortunately…”

Phillipa Kanyoka, also with DENIVA, is even more direct:

“It’s the duty of the polluters to pay, to offset…because in economics, there is something called the ‘polluter pays’ principle… (But) we cannot negotiate…you know it is like for the negotiations on trade. EU’s funding is assisting African leaders. So, I am being paid by EU. And they are sponsoring me. I go there…am I going to be at the same level as the other European, or other bigger nations? I am going there as a…as a beggar. So I think the power of nations plays a very big role…the problem of the positions of our political leaders, the problem of power relations. Whoever is funding you has the power to influence your decision…”

These fundamental restraints on the capacity of the Ugandan government to respond to climate change are not widely known in Uganda. Although many Ugandans have embraced the message of planting trees to absorb carbon dioxide, of switching to more drought-resilient crops, and of adapting to unpredictable rains, most have not grasped the injustice of climate change.

If and when they do, the focus of climate change in Uganda may change from passively adapting to changes that Ugandans didn’t cause, to actively challenging the political structures that prevent them from accessing the financial support they are owed by the international community.

Indigenous knowledge & climate change

In Climate Change, Indigenous knowledge, Religion, Uganda on February 5, 2011 at 9:32 am

Religion & superstition go hand in hand in Uganda

Uganda is a deeply spiritual country. Almost 90% Christian with a sprinkling of Islam, the formal religions are supplemented with a hefty dose of ancient superstition. Witchdoctors and practitioners of herbal remedies abound. Due in part to the failure of the healthcare system to meet basic needs, many Ugandans still turn to ‘alternative’ medicines. Uganda is not necessarily anti-science, but science takes its place alongside superstition as a competing method of understanding the world.

Against this backdrop, you might expect the scientific explanation of climate change to fall on deaf ears. But in fact, indigenous knowledge in rural Uganda – built up over centuries of living in-synch with the natural environment, and often rooted in superstition and spirituality – is an ancient form of environmentalism.

Traditional Ugandan cultural institutions (that existed long before the Christian missionaries came to Africa) treated the natural environment with a great deal of respect. In an article for, Robert Bakiika argues that ancient cultural knowledge is vital for managing climate change:

“Cultural institutions have played an important role in the context of climate change adaptation and mitigation such as implementation of forest protection policies and passing of information to generations…Recalling that part of Mpanga Forest Reserve in Mpigi District used to be a burial ground for some heads of cultural institutions, clearly shows that such institutions respected natural resource management.”

Ben Twinomugisha, a climate change activist from Kampala, suggests that it is not necessarily a problem if people apply non-scientific explanations to climate change.

“They might not know that it is caused by industrialisation, because most people have not seen industries in their areas. So they say ‘we cut trees, and God is telling us not to destroy trees around us, so now that’s why we are suffering’. Indigenous knowledge comes from the history of the people from generation to generation. When I look at your societies, most people don’t have a history. Here, our communities have been together for centuries, so there is an oral tradition from one generation to the next. I can tell you a story of the last 10,000 years….it shapes my mind.”

That kind of panoramic historical view on the changes that are taking place in Uganda today is an aid, not a barrier, to communicating climate change in Uganda. People know their natural history. They recall stories about climatic events. They understand that the environment must be cared for and respected if it is to serve its purpose for humans.

Climate change is not about predominantly about science in Uganda – it is about environmental stewardship. Whether that stewardship is motivated by rationalism or superstition, few seek to deny its importance. But it is sobering to consider that the ancient cultural institutions in Uganda that represent the nation’s environmental consciousness are being steadily eroded by the inevitable march towards industrialisation.

Kampala's heaving taxi park - a sign of the times

Development is understandably the highest priority in Uganda – and so industrialisation will be welcomed with open arms if it brings improvements in standards of living. But thanks to the unsustainable practices of developed nations, Uganda’s industrial revolution will be constrained by the need to buffer itself against the effects of climate change. The balancing act for Uganda – as with so many developing nations – is to develop in a way that does not compromise the well-being of future generations.

Sustainable development is an all-encompassing term that has come to mean almost nothing in countries like the UK, where corporate social responsibility means offsetting the staff Christmas party with a cheque made out to the Indonesian Orangutans. But in Uganda, sustainable development means something profound.

The wood for the trees

In Climate Change, trees, Uganda on January 26, 2011 at 10:06 am

Ugandan farmer next to some pine trees

Trees are important in Uganda. With most of the country lacking piped gas and reliable electricity, they provide crucial cooking fuel for rural (and not so rural) communities. For the many Ugandans who do not have an enclosed, private kitchen, a charcoal powered stove at the back of the house (or in a communal area) is the primary method of heating food and boiling otherwise un-drinkable tap water. People also sell charcoal to earn money.

Burning charcoal is literally keeping people alive in Uganda. But the rate of deforestation is depleting wood stocks at an unprecedented pace, and charcoal is a dirty fuel – and so burning charcoal is also ensuring that future Ugandan generations will not have access to this vital source of energy. It is an unenviable Catch 22 – Ugandans need trees now, and they need them in the future.

Bags of charcoal on a farm in Southern Uganda

The Africa Talks Climate research programme (which provided the first systematic analysis of public perceptions of climate change in the continent) pointed to a high level of awareness of the critical role that trees play in regulating the natural environment in Uganda.

Ugandans identify trees as being important for preventing topsoil from washing away in floods, providing habitats for animals, and fruit for the rapidly growing population. But they also feel compelled to chop them down. According to one participant in the Africa Talks Climate project, from Soroti in the East of Uganda:

“Poverty is the thing that causes a person to go and cut trees for charcoal…(then they) sell it to get some help”.

In the absence of other suitable sources of energy, it is not reasonable to expect people not to chop down their forests to help feed themselves. This is the brutal interaction between poverty and climate change laid bare. Those without the means of accessing clean energy must use polluting fuels – yet the greenhouse gases created by burning them will impact disproportionately on economically vulnerable countries.

A Ugandan woman cooking with charcoal and wood

People in poverty are compelled by necessity to pursue a path they know is not tenable in the long term. It is up to those in positions of power – the Ugandan government, civil society, and the international community – to ensure that citizens are not forced to embrace unsustainable practices, as Uganda is deeply dependent on the productivity of its agricultural land.

The Presidential election is less than a month away, but a quick scan of the national media suggests that campaigning on sustainable land use is not a political point scorer. Understandably, people have more immediate concerns – like improving the crumbling roads of Kampala, or the erratic and over-priced electricity supply. And the politicians know that promises of short term solutions will be preferred to strategic long term goals. The problem is expressed neatly in an article in the Daily Monitor, Uganda’s most respected daily paper:

“…(I)n a country where the vast majority of the voters are poor and illiterate, their voting decisions normally depend on what they hear. For the rural poor, justice, good governance, rule of law, press freedom, human rights and macro-economic policies are distant and intangible things” (Daily Monitor, Monday 24th January 2010, ‘Uganda Decides’ pullout, page 1)

Climate change – perhaps the most frustratingly intangible thing of all – could be added to this list. Convincing poor, rural populations that they should think long term about the natural environment is going to be a challenge. But without a more stringent strategy for sustainable forest management, Ugandans are in danger of not seeing the wood for the burnt, charcoal trees.

What do Ugandans think about climate change? (Part I)

In Climate Change, Uganda on January 20, 2011 at 8:38 pm

Until recently, there was little in the way of systematic evidence about Ugandan perceptions of climate change. There is still an enormous gap between what is known about how members of the European public perceive climate change, and what is known about African attitudes on the subject.

But a pioneering project called Africa Talks Climate has made a critical start in beginning to document African perspectives on climate change and what it will mean for their continent. During 2009, citizen focus groups and a series of expert interviews were conducted in ten African nations, including Uganda. While these initial results necessarily only capture a tiny fragment of African opinion, the Africa Talks Climate findings provide a fascinating insight into how climate change is understood and perceived in Africa.

In Uganda, 12 focus groups and 18 interviews with various climate change ‘opinion leaders’ (from the government, private sector, media and community organisations) were conducted.

Ugandans have noticed changes in the climate, but do not necessarily attribute them to ‘climate change’ (i.e. global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels). In fact, the terms ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ are not consistently recognised or used by ordinary Ugandans. But awareness of environmental degradation and increasing pollution from industrialisation is very high, and many Ugandan citizens express concern about the way their local environment is changing.

Ugandans do not routinely distinguish climate change from the broader environmental changes that are taking place, including deforestation and air pollution. Ordinary citizens and opinion leaders are also quick to point out that local environmental degradation is driven by necessity. Forests are cut down for charcoal that is used for cooking and heating, not luxury items.

Research in the US has revealed a variety of mental shortcuts that people use to understand climate change. For example, many people see climate change as being caused by a hole in the ozone layer, although in fact global warming and ozone depletion are two distinct problems. Interestingly, some Ugandans express a similar view, suggesting that the ‘mental models’ applied to climate change in the US and Uganda might not be all that different.

How much do these kinds of confusions about climate change matter – do American and Ugandan citizens need to understand climate change better? There is a large academic literature debating the extent to which people need to understand science to ‘accept’ it. Typically, it is concluded that scientific literacy is not the critical factor in whether people approve of scientific developments like GM crops, or nanotechnologies. Instead, people draw on their existing beliefs about the social and ethical implications of technologies. What purpose will nanotechnologies be used for? Who will own the GM crops?

Filling in a ‘deficit’ of knowledge about a scientific subject does not necessarily increase the extent to which that science is accepted. But climate change seems to raise a different question about knowledge – especially in countries like Uganda where building resilience is so crucial.

The issue is not whether people know enough about climate change to accept that it is happening (and it remains to be seen whether denial of climate change science is only a factor in wealthy nations where lifestyle change is implicated). The question is whether the large numbers of farmers in Uganda know enough about climate change to ensure that they are developing solutions to the right problem.

You could make a similar argument about methods of mitigation in wealthy countries like the UK. Scientific literacy might not determine climate change scepticism, but a lack of basic knowledge about how different behaviours stack up in terms of environmental impact is a barrier to adopting sensible solutions.

Ask a British citizen what they are doing to tackle climate change, and they will more than likely reply “recycling”. But while there are many good reasons for recycling, its impact on carbon emissions is minimal. Turning down the thermostat, using public transport and eating less meat are vastly more effective individual actions.

So while Ugandan knowledge about climate change might not be comprehensive among its citizens or opinion leaders, this is not something unique to Uganda. A shared challenge for UK and Ugandan governments is to equip their citizens with information that will empower them to make decisions that are as well-informed as possible.

How will climate change affect Uganda?

In Climate Change, Uganda on January 7, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Climate change is a global problem, but it is not one that is evenly distributed in causes or effects. Industrialised nations bear the historical responsibility for the burning of fossil fuels, but developing countries will be hit hardest by the effects of climate change. It is sobering to consider that while the average UK carbon footprint is about 9 tonnes per year, the carbon footprint of a Ugandan is about 0.1 tonnes.

Poorer countries lack the financial and technological resources to adapt to a changing climate. But the ‘socio-geography’ of developing countries is also an important factor. In Africa, many nations already have extreme climates, and are highly dependent on climate-sensitive industries like farming and food production. When your living is made on the land, the climate is vitally important. In an office in Birmingham it is less of a big deal.

Uganda – along with other East African and Sub Saharan nations – will experience profound effects from climate change. In a nation where over 80% of the population work in agriculture, a changing climate will have a direct impact on livelihoods and lives.

Climate change is likely to increase average temperatures in Uganda by up to 1.5 0C in the next 20 years. That might not sound like much – but it has been estimated that a 2 degree rise would wipe out most of Uganda’s coffee production, on which up to 5 million people depend.

Looking further ahead, up to 4.3C change in average temperatures by the 2080s is possible – more than double what is widely accepted to constitute ‘dangerous’ climate change. These are major changes, in a country that could really do without them.

Of course, these are predictions based on climatic models, not observations. There is a chance that Uganda will experience less climate change than is currently expected. There is a chance that globally, levels of greenhouse gases will peak sooner than we think.

But they are currently rising faster than even the worst case scenario considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (despite a minor blip caused by the global recession). Crossing our fingers and hoping for a lucky break seems unreasonably optimistic.

Alongside these temperature increases, Uganda will get more rain. Unfortunately, while an increase in total rainfall might be welcomed in Uganda, the added water will fall in more sudden downpours bringing floods, landslides and soil erosion – with dry and barren periods in between.

The recent announcement in Cancun of a fund for developing countries to adapt to climate change is good news – but details of where the money will come from are scarce. And, although Uganda has reached a position of relative political stability under the leadership of President Yoweri Museveni, there are major concerns within the country (and increasingly from outside observers) that corruption and bribery is still rife in local and national government.

It is a tall order. The Ugandan government needs to build resilience into farming practices, negotiate financial reparations from industrialised nations for their ecological debt, educate the population about the causes and effects of climate change and attempt to rein in the deforestation that is damaging the capacity of the Ugandan land to provide for its people (even though the felled trees provide vital fuel for cooking and commerce in the short term).

And Uganda needs to do all of this while trying to meet Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that seek to lift millions more out of poverty and eradicate preventable diseases like Malaria that blight the country. The impacts of climate change will hinder achievement of MDGs. But spending precious money on climate change will divert funds from MDG achievement – all the more reason that the ‘climate fund’ from wealthy nations needs to be in addition to (not instead of) existing aid.

To protect its citizens from the worst effects of climate change, Uganda must juggle an unenviable set of priorities – and hope that the rest of the world lives up to its obligations.We might all be in it together when it comes to global climate change, but some are more in it than others…