Climate change in Africa and implications for Uganda

This paper provides a brief overview of climate change in Africa and its effects specifically on Uganda. It examines some of the climatic change implications for the country (i.e. drought, resources pressures and local violence, rising temperatures and increased diseases, food insecurity and species extinction). Some suggestions on how the Uganda government may help tackle climatic change at the local and global levels are provided.

Climate change in Africa
Africa is the continent that will suffer most under climate change and global warming. African countries are amongst the poorest of the developing countries and are least equipped to adapt to the potential effects of a changing climate. The tragedy is that Africa has played virtually no role in global warming with the problem caused mainly by the economic activity of the rich northern industrial countries. It is important not to forget the penetration of multinational corporations from developed nations into Africa due to rapid economic globalisation; having set up operations and extracted the continents fossil fuels and wealth while simultaneously emitting greenhouse gases. Nevertheless, although Nigeria and South Africa are the main emitters of greenhouse gases in Africa, accounting for almost 90% of the emissions on the continent, Africa can by no means, compare to the emissions from the industrialised countries. Three-quarters of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2), generated from human activities comes from burning fossil fuels (i.e. oil, gas and coal). There are imbalances in the sources of the burning of fossil fuels as the world’s richest countries consume over the levels of their population. The US produces 24% of the world’s CO2 emissions yet has only 4.5% of the world’s population. Conversely, India has 16.7% of the world’s population yet only produces 4% of the CO2 emissions. Figures from the World Resources Institute (2000) calculated that Africa’s 812 million people produce only 0.8 metric tonnes of greenhouse emissions per person compared with 3.9 metric tonnes per person globally. Africa has contributed less than any other region to the greenhouse gas emissions that are widely held responsible for global warming.

Unfortunately, there has been a failure of industrialised governments to help developing countries adapt to climate change. Africa has been largely overlooked in much of the global discourse and policy development relating to climate change. The continent has no official mention in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) or in the Kyoto Protocol, the two principal documents formulated by the United Nations to tackle global climate change. The assumption is that Africa’s interests are covered as part of the wider group of developing countries. The Kyoto Protocol requires calls for a climate-proof model of development and massive emissions cuts to avoid possibly disastrous change. Unfortunately, the US one of the main contributors to climate change did not join the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 but proposed a plan with incentives for U.S. businesses to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This was based on fears of slowing economic growth. With the US economy already in a troubled state with looming economic collapse, it is questionable if the US will invest in and adopt measures to reduce emissions or continue polluting while leaving poor countries to face the impacts of climate change?

The hegemony of the G8 developed nations in international forums such as the UNFCCC means that global climate policy is being chosen for its compatibility with the existing neo-liberal economic system rather than its effectiveness in reducing emissions. Carbon trading mechanisms (CDMs) has been essential to this approach. It turns the earth’s carbon-cycling capacity into property to be bought or sold in a global market with governments allocating permits to big industrial polluters who then trade these ‘rights to pollute’. CDMs allow developed countries to purchase emission credits against their own reduction targets by investing in projects that reduce or sequester emissions in Southern countries. The market is growing rapidly with the World Bank valuing CDMs at US$21.5 billion for the first three-quarters of 2006, up 94 per cent on its value of $11.1 billion in 2005. However, there is no evidence that climate change can be tackled while maintaining an economic growth pattern based on the ever-increasing extraction and consumption of fossil fuels. Carbon trading encourages the industries most dependent on coal, oil and gas to delay shifting away from fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developed nations. There is little incentive for redefining production processes and questioning the need for such facilities but rather a continuation of pollution via the right to pollute. Yet for G8 countries seeking to demonstrate their commitment to climate action, these inherent problems of emissions trading are swept aside in favour of a system that sustains the economic dominance of the most powerful industrialised nations with climate changes continuing to impact on poor nations.

The increased emission of greenhouse gases and climatic change will have devastating impacts on the African continent. Climate unpredictability will lead to food insecurity and subsistence farming difficulties. The average number of food emergencies in Africa per year almost tripling since the mid-1980s. Cereal crop yields could fall between 10 to 30 percent by the 2050s compared to 1990 levels. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change will soon cause major droughts and uncertain rainfall in Africa’s sub-tropical and tropical areas. Other impacts of climate change in Africa include, temperature rises with many areas over the continent being greater than the global average with a predicted rise of four degrees Celsius by the 2080s. Temperatures could rise to seven degrees Celsius in southern Africa and eight degrees Celsius in northern Africa. Significant changes in rainfall could be experienced across the continent, especially with the area around the Sahara and in southern Africa with desertification likely to increase around the Sahara. Rising temperatures, widespread water stress, increased frequency and severity of droughts and floods, and rising sea levels will severely damage progress on development goals in Africa. Diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and cholera may increase. As many as 67 million more people could be at risk of malaria epidemics by the 2080s. About 182 million people in sub-Saharan Africa could die of diseases directly attributable to climate change by the end of the century.

Uganda, climate change and CDM projects:
Increase in conflicts and human rights abuse
Uganda, as a developing country and as a party to the Kyoto Protocol, has undertaken CDM projects, especially in the forestry sector. Despite the disadvantage of carbon trading which continues to allow developed nations to pollute without tackling the root problems of climate change, the Face Foundation, a non-profit group established by Dutch power companies, would receive carbon credits for reforesting the Ugandan park’s perimeter. The project is part of a growing trade in voluntary carbon offsets, in which environmentally concerned consumers pay to have others remove an amount of carbon equal to what they emit. Vendors earn carbon credits by planting trees, which capture carbon from the atmosphere, or by modifying existing factories to consume fewer fossil fuels. However, planting trees in Uganda to offset greenhouse-gas emissions in Europe has resulted in farmers being evicted from their land to make room for a forest. Farmers have been fighting to get their land back since being evicted in the early 1990s and have pressed their case with lawsuits. The conflict between the farmers and the paramilitary Ugandan Wildlife Authority has even reached violence with beatings and torture of farmers while the government claims that the park is a natural park. As representatives of people’s movements and independent organisations noted in the Durban Declaration on carbon trading, the carbon market creates transferable rights to dump carbon in the biosphere far in excess of the capacity of these systems to hold it. Billions of dollars worth of these rights are to be awarded free of charge to the biggest corporate emitters of greenhouse gases in industrialised nations who have caused the climate crisis and already exploit these systems the most. The costs of future reductions in fossil fuel use are likely to fall disproportionately on the public sector, communities, indigenous peoples and individual taxpayers.

Climate change implications for Uganda
People in developing countries like Uganda, whose contribution to global warming has been minuscule, are feeling the impacts of climate change first and worst. Some of these climate change impacts on Uganda include (but are not limited to) the following:

Increased drought: A cause for competition and violence over scarce resources
Climate change resulting in increased droughts in Uganda has impacted on resources leading to competition and violence over limited resources. Droughts have resulted in lowering of the water table, leading to drying of boreholes, with the rural poor and the cattle corridor most affected. This has already witnessed violence between different tribes in Uganda. The population in eastern Uganda continues to grow as the environment deteriorates, putting more and more pressure on a land that grows ever drier. With more people forced to share fewer resources conflicts between pastoral communities have occurred. Violent cattle raids are a traditional method of restocking herds among pastoral groups. The semi-nomadic Karimojong are pastoralists who protect their cows, violently if necessary. A well-established small-arms trade has also sprung out of the regional insecurity, with guns flowing in from neighbouring Sudan and Somalia. Uganda is in the process of disarming the tribal warriors, but on October 2006 an attempted cordon-and-search operation left 27 people dead, 16 of which were Ugandan soldiers, with the Karimojong village then bombed by the military killing a dozen people. Caught between a government that sees them as a problem to be solved militarily and a harsh environment that is becoming ever drier, the Karimojong face a difficult future. While Ugandan pastoralists who live in arid regions suffer, it is the Western countries like the United States which refuse to sign on to global protocols like Kyoto to reduce greenhouse gases and who are the cause of rapid climatic change and conflicts in Uganda.

Rising temperatures and increased diseases
Climate change as a result of temperature rise is already having a devastating impact on Uganda. Health patterns in Uganda change markedly with the seasons, and that applies to human, animal and vegetable health equally. Malaria, the primary killer of under-fives and pregnant mothers, increases as the rains arrive. Temperature rise has resulted in an increase in infectious diseases with malaria having increased throughout the country reaching epidemic proportions in south-west Uganda, where temperatures have risen by 0.3 degrees in a decade. The highlands, which were malaria free, are now invaded by the disease. People living in highlands have not developed immunity to malaria and are therefore more susceptible to it. There has been an increase in malaria cases of 43 percent in Ntungamo, 51 percent in Kabale and 135 percent in Mbarara, while in semi-arid areas, tick-borne diseases have become rampant because of higher temperatures. The tsetse fly belt has expanded, while meningitis and eye infections have increased. Floods also carry the worms that cause intestinal diseases to flourish. Cholera and bloody diarrhoea come with the rains, as does bilharzia. In Kampala urban area, intense rain combines with blocked drains to increase rates of diarrhoea.

Food insecurity
Increased temperatures are also affecting agricultural crops like coffee, cassava and soy and lead to the emergence of new pests. Currently, most of Uganda’s agriculture is rain-fed and thus more vulnerable during climatic variations. Food shortages and nutritional deficiencies are common in many parts of the country with 40% of deaths among children in Uganda caused by malnutrition. According to the 2002 Uganda Population and Housing Census, the country’s annual population growth rate was 3.4%, while the annual growth rate of food production was only about 1.5%. If food production levels do not increase, food shortages will become more acute in the near future. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), at least seven million people are facing food insecurity with some areas of Karamoja facing hunger. As a result, crops that once grew have disappeared due to climatic change. Most of Uganda has a bi-modal climate with two rainy seasons. One starts in March and lasts through until June, with the second season lasting from around October until about December. In the north, the country is more arid with most rain arriving in April then petering out until finishing in September. There have been big changes to both seasons with some local varieties of pumpkins, cassava and beans that need a lot of rain having disappeared. Rains are decreasing in amount, yet they fall in concentrated heavy showers and storms, leading to floods in lowlands and landslides in highlands, washing away soil and crops.

Species extinction
In Uganda, the climatic change has been in manifestation for the past 20 years. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Uganda’s rainfall has been unpredictable since the early 1990’s, with the water levels in Lake Victoria having reduced to its lowest while the ice caps on Mountain Rwenzori in western Uganda are melting faster. The ice caps on the Rwenzori Mountains have receded to 40 percent of their 1955 recorded cover and are set to disappear within the next two decades, affecting wildlife species and increasing the erosive power of River Semliki. The warming of mountainous areas will also drastically affect wildlife species. The Mountain Gorilla is under threat. Equally endangered are the Rwenzori leopard and the Rwenzori Red Duiker, which usually live at altitudes above 3,000 meters, corresponding with colder climates. Unique species of chameleon are also found on the mountains, including the three-horned chameleon, whose range is shifting upwards as a result of rising temperatures. The dwindling of wildlife will affect tourism. Wildlife-based tourism was recorded in 2004 for the first time as the country’s leading foreign exchange earner, bringing in 300 million U.S. dollars.

Ways forward to reduce the effects of climate change
Reduced reliance on fossil fuels in Uganda
With the recent discovery of oil reserves in Uganda’s Lake Albert, oil exploration will no doubt lead to further impacts on climatic change in the country (and internationally) leading to increased environmental degradation and poverty. However, Uganda must get the help it needs, to move to a cleaner and less polluting development path that does not depend on fossil fuels and that avoids the spiralling costs both to the economy and the climate. The Uganda government needs to follow the lead of the global environmental justice movement’s call to ‘leaving the oil in the soil’, to prevent underdevelopment of the world’s climate. Investment in renewable energy can avoid dependence arising from oil in Uganda and subsequent climatic changes. Research and development funds must be spent on alternative, environmentally friendly energy sources such as harnessing solar, wind, and biomass. The Ugandan government needs to tackle this immediately before it is too late. (Refer to briefing paper on Oil exploration in Africa and effects on Uganda for more details).

Moving away from carbon trading
At a meeting of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (2007) government delegates and representatives of civil society groups agreed that given their historical and current contributions to climate change, developed countries should take the lead in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, providing additional financing and accelerating the transfer of climate-friendly, appropriate and cost-effective technologies to developing countries. This commitment can ensure long-term sustainable development, in particular for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Tackling climate change effectively requires a mix of interrelated policies that addressed, among other things, renewable energy requirements, automotive efficiency norms, industrial emissions regulations, and responsible management of forest, soil and water resources. Carbon trading does not tackle the climatic crisis. The effects of climate change can be mitigated through a number of ways. In Uganda, existing forests should be protected and tree planting should be encouraged (but without removing people from their lands through carbon trading which does not tackle the real causes of climate change or benefit the people of Uganda).

An alternative to corporate-led schemes such as emission trading is government regulation including taxation, penalties for polluting, and improved technological fixes such as scrubbers and filters on smokestacks. It is essential that the Ugandan government join the international environmental justice movement which is speaking out against carbon trading and tackling the root cause of climatic changes, with CDMs having serious implications for the local community levels in Uganda. The message by global justice movements is that industrialised nations like the US must make commitments to international agreements (i.e. Kyoto) to reduce emissions at home, moving away from voluntary agreements, allowing rich nations to continue with over-consumption of the world’s resources. This will require changes in within industrial structures and moving away from fossil fuels.

Improved governance and support of locals
The UNFCCC requires state parties to take appropriate legislative measures to give effect to the terms of the Convention. Uganda, as a party to the Convention, has the National Environment Act and other laws and policies that protect against climate change. These laws and policies, however, have some weaknesses in respect of climate change mitigation and it can be argued that this partly explains the persistence of some of the problems and effects on Uganda. Poor enforcement and insufficient allocation of resources to environmental concerns in Uganda both in local government and national agencies are challenges to combat climate change. It is, therefore, essential that the government focus on improving these areas. In addition, transparency in decision-making and partnerships with citizens can ensure appropriate response strategies to climatic change that are appropriate for local communities. The Ugandan government can also increase investments that focus on irrigation schemes so that local farmers continue to produce through drought periods. Early warning systems are also needed so that farmers can prepare and plan in advance for climatic change impacts. It is essential that the Ugandan government work tackle problems within the country immediately and not rely on the international market and trading systems to solve problems of climatic change. Taking action sooner rather than later would ensure that effects of climate change on Uganda and its people is alleviated and mitigated.

Leonard, L. (2008) Climate change in Africa and implications for Uganda, Ugandan Parliamentary briefing, Royal African Society, United Kingdom, 30 October.

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