What does 1.5°C global temperature rise mean to the average Ugandan?

Monday October 22 2018

Susan Nanduddu

Susan Nanduddu  

By Susan Nanduddu

On October 8, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international body of scientists for climate change, sounded yet another warning in a special report on global warming of 1.5°C. The report revealed among others, that global temperature will very likely reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052. That’s only between 11 and 34 years from now.
The 1.5°C sounds harmless to the ordinary ears, doesn’t it? Well let’s dig into the numbers.

Imagine a baby born today. In the year 2030, she will be 12 years old. That is a typical child in Primary Seven. Think also about the child born in 1960, who is 58 years today, and will be 69 years in 2030. What is the meaning of 1.5°C to these two children? The answer takes us centuries back.

Climate change as revealed by scientists has been observed since the 1850s – also known as the pre-industrial times. This is when scientists began to observe the link between human activities and changes in the climate.

Between 1850 and 1960, they observed that average temperature increased by slightly more than 0.5°C. That took approximately 110 years. The second half of temperature rise took about 45 years to hit to 1°C. This was between 1960 and 2015, the year the Paris Agreement was decided. It is now anticipated that the next 0.5°C will take only 15 to 35 years.

In the Paris Agreement, world leaders committed governments to keep temperature rise to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. This decision was supported by the IPCC’s fifth assessment report that revealed that the world was well on a 2°C pathway by end of the century if nothing was done.

Since the 1.5°C pathway was not well examined by the scientists in that report, governments requested the IPCC to do so, and this was released last week.
If we can bring back the two children in the scenario here, both are likely to be alive when the 1.5°C temperature rise above preindustrial times is hit.

What are the impacts? The child born in 1960 has lived through changes associated with climate change and has observed the impacts on lives and livelihoods. As average global temperatures rise, Uganda’s temperature is rising faster.
Thus the icecap has significantly reduced on Mt Rwenzori. The fog and cold in southwestern Uganda has significantly reduced, attracting malaria into places like Kabale that had no prior exposure to it.

Perhaps what resonates with the majority in Uganda is the increased frequency and intensity of extreme events, including droughts, floods and landslides. One that may not be extreme, but bites hard, is the unpredictability of rainfall; and the increased frequency and intensity of pests and diseases in crops and animals.

Nowadays, you can hardly harvest a mango without spraying it! But 20 years ago, who was spraying mangos? The economy has not been spared either! The 1.5°C scenario forecasts that all this is going to be a lot worse. The report, however, provides a ray of hope. While past man-made emissions up to the present are unlikely to cause further warming of more than 0.5°C over the next two to three, it can be delayed, if we (global citizens) bring the carbon emissions to zero.

While developed countries have a greater responsibility and must take the lead by especially keeping fossil fuels in the ground, developing countries need to and are already showing leadership in mitigating and adapting to climate change. Your individual decisions at home, while travelling and at the work place – matter. When we all play our part, in the end it will be significant. Plant a tree.

Say no to charcoal and yes to briquettes. Use energy saving cook stoves; Liquefied Petroleum Gas for your cooking needs. Keep trees standing. Etc. As a country, let us prioritise the implementation of the climate change policy.

Ms Nanduddu works with the African Centre for Trade and Development.
[email protected] @Snanduddu