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Impact of climate change in Uganda and the importance of COP21 Social Innovation 

Impact of climate change in Uganda and the importance of COP21

So, what’s COP21 and why does it matter? Conference of the Parties (COP), also known as the Climate Conference, is a gathering of the countries that signed up to an international treaty, called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or “UNF-triple C”) in 1992. Last year’s COP in Paris was the 21st conference –COP21, and in 2016, Marrakech will host the 22nd conference –COP22.

At COP21, a legally binding commitment called the Paris Agreement was adopted by 196 countries which are parties to the UNFCCC, with the aim of reducing global emissions of greenhouse gases, to keep the rise in global temperatures to below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels, with a new target of 1.5°C as the aspiration. The French President Hollande referred to the Paris Agreement as “a revolution for climate change”, while the US President Obama said it demonstrated “that the world has both the will and the ability to take on this challenge”. However the jubilant sentiment is not share by all, Craig Bennett, the Chief Executive of Friends of the Earth, and Kumi Naidoo, the Executive Director of Greenpeace among others, argue that the Paris Agreement is neither a sufficient nor strong enough commitment to cut emissions or protect the communities already affected by the rise in the incidence of floods, droughts and super-storms caused by climate change.

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Aerial View of Lake Victoria, Courtesy wikipedia

The time to act is already running out, experts say emissions must meet targets by 2030 and reach a net of zero by 2050. Tragically, studies show that global temperatures have already risen by up to 1°C above pre-industrial times caused by emissions –primarily carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and deforestation. But, the Paris Agreement is not even technically in effect yet… As a next step:

  1. at least 55 parties representing 55% of global emissions must consent to be bound; and
  2. produce their final plans “Nationally determined Contributions” to meet the targets

China, US, EU, Brazil, Russia, India and Japan, play the lead role in the propagation of global warming, which disproportionately affects developing countries. It is clear that global business and political leaders must accept their responsibility to step up, and take the swift and strong action that is critically needed to save the planet. Individuals must also exercise their responsibility to influence speed of action by global leaders, by using wallets and votes, wisely. Consumer demand is a powerful force for economic and business change –only buy products and services from businesses that are committed to environmental sustainability!

At the London 2012 Olympics Uganda exuberantly celebrated the gold medal won by Kiprotich in the marathon, and following the success of Rio 2016, hopes have continued to rise for an Olympics in Africa. However, a recent study published by Lancet suggests that by 2085, most cities outside Western Europe may be too hot to host the Olympics, and according to NASA 2016 may already be the warmest year on record.

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Less than 4% of the world’s CO2 emissions is produced by Africa, but the continent faces costs of USD7bn-15bn by 2020 and USD50bn by 2050, to adapt to the effects of climate change. 80% of Uganda’s electricity derives from hydropower, but as Lake Victoria in Uganda continues dry up due to droughts caused by the climatic situation, only 470MW of the current 696MW of Uganda’s total installed hydropower capacity is actually available. In addition, UETCL reports that the demand for electricity on the grid has risen by 10% a year since 2005, partly due to the rise in urbanization driven by the effects of changing rain patterns on rural livelihoods that are typically sustained by agricultural production. Consequently, the country was forced to invest in 140MW of expensive diesel/HFO generation and a number of large hydropower projects currently underway, but with the continued deterioration of hydrological conditions due to climate change, it is highly unlikely that the new hydropower plants will even operate at capacity.

Aside from energy security, Lake Victoria is most pertinently vital to food security, and the sustenance of human livelihoods and biodiversity along the entire river Nile, from Uganda to South Sudan, Sudan, all the way up to Egypt. In two districts of North Eastern Uganda– Moroto and Kaabong, USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network reported earlier this year that one fifth of people are in “crisis” and heavily dependent on WFP assistance, due to dwindling harvests caused by drought exacerbated by El Nino. Farmers in North Western Uganda complain of the unpredictability of rainfall affecting harvests, while, in the southern parts of the country, from Kasese to Kampala, torrential rains have caused an increase in the incidence of floods that destroy homes, businesses and crops, as well as displaced thousands of people.

In sum, the new target of 1.5°C from COP21 is largely welcomed as a significant move in the fight against climate change, particularly as studies have confirmed that a global temperature rise of up to the previous target of 2°C would be disastrous. A lot more needs to be done, action needs to be immediate, and every individual has a responsibility to act. Uganda, like other developing countries, and indeed the entire planet, all remain highly vulnerable, with the effects of global warming, already too evident globally, as people continue to lose their livelihoods and lives, due to uncharacteristically prolonged heat waves, rising sea levels, dying coral reefs, changing rain patterns, floods and drought, with a resultant exacerbation of poverty.

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