Climate change in Uganda: Understanding the implications and appraising the response

Originally published
View original


Executive summary

1. Uganda's climate is naturally variable and susceptible to flood and drought events which have had negative socio-economic impacts in the past. Human induced climate change is likely to increase average temperatures in Uganda by up to 1.5 ºC in the next 20 years and by up to 4.3 ºC by the 2080s. Such rates of increase are unprecedented. Changes in rainfall patterns and total annual rainfall amounts are also expected but these are less certain than changes in temperature. The climate of Uganda may become wetter on average and the increase in rainfall may be unevenly distributed and occur as more extreme or more frequent periods of intense rainfall. Regardless of changes in rainfall, changes in temperature are likely to have significant implications for water resources, food security, natural resource management, human health, settlements and infrastructure. In Uganda, as for the rest of the world, there are likely to be changes in the frequency or severity of extreme climate events, such as heat waves, droughts, floods and storms.

2. Uganda is highly vulnerable to climate change and variability - its economy and the wellbeing of its people are tightly bound to climate. Human induced climate change in the coming century has the potential to halt or reverse the country's development trajectory. In particular, climate change is likely to mean increased food insecurity; shifts in the spread of diseases like malaria; soil erosion and land degradation; flood damage to infrastructure and settlements and shifts in the productivity of agricultural and natural resources. It will be the poor and vulnerable who feel these impacts the hardest, though climate change has serious implications for the nation's economy, with for example, a shift in the viability of coffee growing areas potentially wiping out US $265.8 million or 40% of export revenue. Exacerbating poverty and triggering migration as well as heightened competition over strategic water resources, climate change could lead to regional insecurity.

3. The level of Lake Victoria is highly sensitive to changes in climate. However, recent claims that the drop in lake level is due to climate change should be viewed with scepticism. Approximately half of the drop in level between 2000 and 2006 can be explained by excess releases at the outflow of the lake made in order to meet power generation demands, whilst the other half appears to be due to climatic factors. It is not yet possible to conclude that climate change is affecting lake levels - Lake Victoria has a long history of high variability in lake levels in response to natural climate variability. Instead it appears that lake levels are returning to the lower levels experienced before the unusually high levels of the 1960s and 70s. There is uncertainly as to whether lake levels in the future will be lower or higher on average than at present but it is likely that variability in levels will continue and may become more extreme. Fluctuations in lake level will continue to have an impact upon the generating capacity of Uganda's hydroelectric facilities and on infrastructure around the lake such as domestic water supply, irrigation and transport infrastructure. The effect of lake level fluctuations and increased temperatures due to climate change on the fishery and ecosystem of the lake is less well known. The resilience of the Lake Victoria ecosystem to climate change can be increased by reducing the impact of other stresses such as over-fishing, soil erosion and pollution.

4. Early adaptation to climate change can moderate impacts and even secure benefits. New international finance and political attention on climate change also has the potential to strengthen weak institutions and to reduce the social vulnerability and inequity which has long been a target of development assistance. However, although pockets of excellent technical expertise and disparate activities on climate change are emerging, in part through response to the UNFCCC, action by government to date falls well short of what is needed to climate-proof Uganda's development. Alongside explicit capacity constraints in terms of resources and personnel, there are less obvious constraints to effective action such as confused mandates, dysfunctional arrangements for inter-agency working, and weak institutional and professional incentives for pro-active action. As well as adding to the challenges of developing an effective response, these issues undermine existing institutional performance which in turn heightens Uganda's vulnerability. Strong leadership with the power to influence across the sectors, and determination to tackle these constraints will be required to respond effectively to climate change. At the moment that leadership is lacking.

5. Strong leadership is also urgently needed within the development partners. Despite the development of a Joint Assistance Strategy, donor action on climate change has to date been disparate and uncoordinated and has bypassed coordination mechanisms such as sectoral working groups, which themselves have yet to develop a collaborative response on climate change issues. Uncoordinated action threatens to stifle the existing capacity on climate change in Uganda and to produce damaging parallel initiatives. Nevertheless, positive action is underway, most notably by the Danish who are leading with several packages of support to establish a National Climate Change Unit; to mainstream climate change into planning and develop a national strategy for adaptation. Whilst the Danish support is clearly needed, it is largely process focused and there is little financial commitment by donors to support adaptation on the ground at the moment.

6. Climate change mitigation through the Clean Development Mechanism and Voluntary Carbon Markets has had a limited impact in Uganda, although it is thought there is potential for Uganda to benefit from these in the future. Constraints such as high transaction costs and limited indigenous capacity are being tackled through a number of initiatives, but the situation should be monitored closely to ensure that Uganda reaps real benefits from these mechanisms.

7. Civil society with support from international NGO's has the potential to play an important role in supporting an effective response to climate change in Uganda and activity there is already vibrant. Advocacy and research is one area they can support on and there is an urgent need to identify the priority issues which require investigation to support an effective response within Uganda.

8. Uganda is in the process of planning how to progress its development goals over the next 5-6 years, a valuable opportunity to ensure that the implications of climate change are considered. However, the current mechanisms for consideration of climate change in the planning process for the National Development Plan are flawed and conspire against the sophisticated level of multi-sectoral deliberation which is required.

9. There is a strong case and demand from donors, government and civil society for DFID Uganda to engage on climate change issues. It is recommended that DFID Uganda respond to the challenges with a programme of support which combines technical assistance, strategic advice and coordination with a watching brief to monitor progress and changing needs in the dynamic institutional environment around climate change. This should be supported with adequate funding to resource the meeting of priority needs as they emerge, to support civil-society's research and advocacy role and to contribute to the costs of adaptation actions on the ground.

10. There is an opportunity to provide exactly this kind of support through collaboration with the UK Environment Agency's International Programme. The Agency possess a bank of appropriate and well tested expertise in environmental governance, water resource management, emergency planning and crucially, in brokering multistakeholder collaboration for responding to climate change. Their international programme has been shown to be effective and good value for money in East Africa and there is an existing working relationship between the Agency and their Uganda counterparts. There is significant demand from within Uganda to build this relationship and to share the Agency's experience, but to date there has been a lack of significant funding to replicate the success of the DFID funded REMAK programme in Kenya.

11. Such a programme fits well with wider DFID and UK-HMG policy and objectives around climate change. DFID should also undertake to screen their country portfolio to assess potential for integrated action on climate change issues and to ensure that it isn't inadvertently contributing to increased vulnerability. It should also look to galvanise political leadership at a senior level within Uganda, consider the efficacy of donor coordination processes on the issue and support a research prioritisation exercise to focus international research effort to supporting Uganda's needs. Careful collaboration with donor partners and government will be needed to align DFID engagement with existing initiatives. Based on discussions during the scoping mission, DFID engagement on the issue would be universally welcomed.