Coping with Climate Change: Potentials and Opportunities for Adaptation

Published on 1st August 2016

Friends, let me give you my view of the world. Not a, complicated, sophisticated view or opinion. It’s just an observation. I believe in year 2016. Why? Because the world has never been more capable of solving the world problems. We have never had intellectual and technological capacity to solve problems, ills in our character and ills in our government.

From computer technology, the world is indeed a small place. In Uganda, from the smallest village in Kabalore to the biggest town in Karamoja, you see amazing human progress connected and facilitated by technology. You see people with i-phones and blue tooth connecting and transacting into prosperity.

It is a world of great anticipation and opportunity. We have never had this capacity as human species on this planet to solve problems than we have today. That is good news.  With the tools we have we could create paradise on earth. But we are not! Why?

In this year of 2016, we can argue, we have more confusion, more turmoil, uncertainty, and more problems than any time before. Why is that? How is that?

Global warming

I am exceedingly religious, but I believe in science. In a way, I have  became a self-taught expert of sorts through reading 1000s of pages of journals and scientific material on this problem. The more I learn, the scarier it becomes. Three years ago, the science community said that if we continued the output of carbon at the levels we emit today, we will hit a TIPPING POINT-that is - two degrees Celsius warmer by the end of this century. If the globe warms beyond two degrees, it will no longer be safe to be human!

One year ago, a head of the American Naval, an Admiral, came to speak at Harvard. A student asked him:

“Admiral – What’s the greatest world problem?”

Without a pause, without saying that the question was tough,  he said,

“It is global warming.”

The student shot back,

“What do you mean? Are you a scientist? Are you an environmentalist?”

“No,” said the Admiral, “In my military career, running the greatest, most powerful navy on earth, I will soon have no place to dock my ships! The seas are rising! We can’t afford to move naval bases to high ground. My job is to help keep the world safe. I can’t do it, if the projections of scientists three years ago are right.”

A new dynamic has emerged. Now, scientists are saying that the three-year ago projection was wrong, especially if the world continues to burn fossil fuels at the rate it is doing dnow. There is a revision: we are going to hit 2 degrees Celsius by 2026! THE TIPPING POINT!

I turned 37 this year. I will probably still be alive by 2026 – like most of you. But surely, my children, your children won’t be dead. What a world will they inherit? What kind of world are we going to bequeath them? When the earth heats up- when oceans die, we die! Friends, this is not an ideology. This is not an opinion. This is science.

It seems we are already burning! I saw photos of barren, premature dry maize fields in Kamwenge and other surrounding places. I imagined what went through the mind of farmers who deployed their energy, scarce resources and hope in the harvest they expected. They had perhaps secured high interest loans to invest in their farms! What a loss! What a monumental risk to hedge fortunes on nature!

It is those with the capacity to harness nature, to adapt and govern nature that transcend and build resilient societies. I hope crop insurance will be quickly operationalized to cover farmers in the above situations. But even with the above situations, there are folks around the world who believe climate change is a hoax, a façade and unreal. It these folks who almost failed the Paris Climate Change accords, who continue to disrupt implementation of these accords and cause disruptions that have led countries to default on their emissions reduction targets and other commitments.

Let’s invite them to Fort portal and other places and see if they will remain climate change deniers. Even the hurricanes and Tsunamis are yet to change them!

I strongly hold that adapting to climate change requires environment integrity. It is the integrity of our values and actions that will make us as a people navigate the winds of uncertainty, cope with changes in climate and prevail. Our historical role as a people to protect, rest and restore the environment is a Biblical Duty and a command of God. In Leviticus 25:1-55 ; The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the Lord. For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land”

There is growing pessimism around the world, especially the developing world. There is a covert logic, a dynamic, that mitigating climate change is hard - because the drivers of emissions are largely outside our borders. The greatest polluters on earth remain China and the United States of America. That for Africa to develop, we have to industrialize – and perhaps emit more!

Whereas this logic holds some truth, it is condescending and an escape from exercise of leadership. Efforts at adaptation must be balanced with mitigation. We can surely industrialize without polluting our environment. We have to do something. Great nations and great leaders at all levels must come together and solve this problem- not at the expense of development.

Let’s face it friends, the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) annual status reports a grim picture of the environment in Uganda. For example, by 2010, the total forest stock had decreased from 3.6 million hectares in 2005 to 3.3 million hectares, accounting for loss of about USD 129.3 million per year. By 2011, the economic cost amounted to USD 819,178,400, a trend attributed to the rising population and demand for arable land for cultivation.

Looking at this trend, the words of Edward O. Wilson come to mind; he famously said “Destroying the rain forest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.”  For those that love classic and legacy art, you know what I am talking about.

We can no longer blame our deepening predicament to the absence of laws. Article 39 of the Constitution of Uganda provides for the right to a healthy and clean environment. The National Environmental Management Statute was also enacted, establishing the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) as well as providing for a broad range of issues pertaining to the functions of NEMA and measures for environmental protection. On the face of it, therefore, Uganda has moved a great distance towards providing a sound policy and legislative framework for environmental protection. The issue however, is whether these policy and legal claims are well integrated in Uganda’s investment policy.

In fact, Article 245 of the Constitution states that Parliament shall, by law, provide for measures intended to:

(1) Protect and preserve the environment from abuse, pollution, and degradation;

(2) Manage the environment for sustainable development; and

(3) Promote environmental awareness.

The article therefore stipulates that the utilization of Uganda’s natural resources shall be managed in such a way as to meet the development and environmental needs of present and future generations of Ugandans, and, in particular, the State shall take all possible measures to prevent or minimize damage and destruction to land, air, and water resources resulting from pollution or other causes. Friends, and leaders at all levels, you have the enabling laws- marshal will and lead- because leaders lead. It begins in Fort portal and time is now.

By Morrison Rwakakamba

Chief Executive Officer, Agency for Transformation, an independent think and do tank based in Kampala, Uganda-

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