For years, climate change has been the also-ran of presidential campaign issue. A few weeks back, the Finnish election broke a trend in northern European election by seeing climate displace immigration as the right’s favourite hot-button issue, even as the threat has become steadily more serious.
The current and expected effects of climate change differ locally, nationally and regionally. The impacts of climate change effects on livelihoods, food and water security, ecosystems, and infrastructure, among others. They include sunshine ravaging the country, heavy rain and flooding in some communities across the country and drought killing off crops in some areas and the recent strong winds that killed people and displaced many in Buyende District.
Uganda ratified the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol. Uganda signed the Paris Agreement on climate change in April 2016 and ratified the agreement in September 2016 with it entering into force in November 2016, these are key protocol which the intending presidential candidates must greatly be keen on.
The National Development Plan II (NDPII, 2015-2020) notes that climate change is one of the greatest challenges for Uganda to realise its Vision 2040 of a transformed modern and prosperous country. The response is to mainstream climate adaptation and mitigation into sector planning and implementation. The National Vision 2040 prioritises, among others, renewable energy, appropriate adaptation and mitigation strategies, knowledge and information sharing on climate change, increased coordination and capacity, and improved monitoring/evaluation regarding climate change interventions.
But those on the front lines of climate change politics say it’s no longer enough for it to be just one of several top issues. With time running out to cut greenhouse gases in order to stave off the worst-case scenarios, presidential contenders need to commit to making it their number one issue when they take office. We need to hear from the candidates that this is going to be a priority from day-one and candidates need to acknowledge that they are willing “to use all aspects of the government.”
While it is too early in the campaign to blame candidates for lacking detailed plans, so far the intending candidates seem more animated by kitchen table issues like healthcare and economic inequality. That is understandable given that most of them cut their teeth as politicians in an era when climate change ranked low on the list of voter priorities, but the urgency of climate change makes such a posture unacceptable since climate change is a global issue.
A landmark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations climate science body, shows the world needs to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 to keep temperatures from rising more than 1.5°C by 2100, a level the agency warns will kill off the world’s reefs and unleash mass climate-related migration, among a slew of other challenges. Meeting that goal is difficult already and will grow more difficult with every passing year. And then there’s the political urgency. If history is any guide, the next president is likely to have one shot at passing big legislation before the politics of the mid-term elections take over. Climate change could easily fall by the wayside if it is a second or third priority for the next president, as the case is for the current government.
My question is, when you have a limited amount of political capital, you have a limited legislative calendar, what gets put to the front of the agenda and what gets pushed off to the future? We need to push elected officials to prioritise climate change and endorse bold solutions and we put national polls to favour the climate change discussions. Ultimately, though, as the effects of climate change grow more severe, the warming planet will push its own messaging. The urgency of global warming is much easier to understand when your backyard is on fire or you are wading through your neighbourhood. And that may be what it takes for people to vote on it.
Climate change-relevant expenditure is heavily concentrated in relatively few ministries - the Ministry of Works and Transport, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, the Ministry of Water and Environment, the Office of the Prime Minister, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries. No climate change-relevant expenditure could be identified within the Ministry of Health, despite this ministry being identified as requiring significant funding in the draft Climate Change Implementation Strategy.
Therefore, presidential candidates should address considerable investments in system strengthening, which continues to be required if the level of expenditure highlighted in the climate change implementation strategy is to be achieved and resource an effective national response to climate change. Awareness raising and technical support relating to climate change (causes, impacts, and adaptation/mitigation options) should be provided to key district government staff.
Considerably the candidates should address the total spending on climate change-relevant activities, which is estimated at around 1 per cent of government expenditure - and this has remained broadly constant over the four year period 2016/7 to 2018/19. This spending equates to around 0.2 per cent of GDP, which contrasts with the level set in the draft Implementation Strategy of the Climate Change Policy, which suggests around 1.6 per cent of GDP needs to be spent on climate change-relevant activities.
Mr Geofrey Kasumba is team leader, CliMates ECOs Uganda, and UNFCC/YOUNGO member.