Adam Corner

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…

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