Q&A: We need long term actions on climate change

In the first of our interviews with representatives from the Least Developed Country Group ahead of the UN climate talks in Paris (COP21), Tracy Kajumba shares some of the challenges created by climate change in Uganda.

Article, 24 November 2015
Unheard voices: what do the Least Developed Countries want from COP21?
A series of interviews with leaders, experts and civil society representatives from the least developed countries ahead of COP21

Uganda's climate is naturally variable and susceptible to flood and drought events with damaging socio-economic impacts. 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. The poor and vulnerable will feel these impacts the hardest.

Tracy Kajumbaa, the national programme coordinator for the Africa Climate Change Resilience Alliance (ACCRA) (Photo: Annah Natukunda)Ugandan journalist Annah Natukunda (AN) interviewed Tracy Kajumba (TK), a climate change expert and advocate for the Africa Climate Change Resilience Alliance (ACCRA), a consortium of CARE, Save the Children, Oxfam and World Vision operating in Uganda, Ethiopia and Mozambique. Here is what she had to say.

AN: A number of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – setting out their plans for low carbon development in country. What is the case for Uganda?

TK: As much as the INDCs focus on mitigation, Uganda has clearly brought it out that for us priority is on adaptation.

It's not that we are not talking about mitigation, but for us the main thing is adaptation, focusing on agriculture, water, livestock and other sectors to make sure they are strengthened to reduce vulnerabilities to the impacts of climate change. Mitigation efforts are mostly focused on forestry, wetlands and transport.

AN: What are the constraints we face in implementing the plan, the estimated costs, and how will they be paid for?

TK: When it comes to implementation, we are not sure the funding will be available, but also there are other factors. First of all, the institutional capacities; do we have the capacity to address all these issues as a country?

And then we have a problem of short-term financing. We get funding for projects that work one year and it's over, and adaptation cannot happen in a year, it is a process. So we need to focus on long-term programming for us to be able to achieve what we are committing to do.

There are also issues of institutional coordination; climate change is a cross-cutting issue, it doesn't belong to any one sector. So there's a lot of work around coordination to ensure that all these issues are being addressed.

There are also issues of population growth. But it's a good step really for Uganda as a country to have worked on its INDC and we hope that maybe, it will be a catalyst for leveraging financing from other donors.

AN: All of the LDCs have submitted National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) outlining actions they plan in country to adapt to climate change, but the Global Environment Facility-managed LDC Adaptation Fund is currently empty. What should Uganda expect from the Paris Agreement on adaptation? What are the priorities?

TK: Uganda developed its NAPA in 2007 and we didn't have funds for implementation until the Danish Embassy provided funds in 2011. This was piloted for one year in five districts of Uganda, out of the over 100 districts in the country.

We need long-term programming and financing. Short-term programmes do not address adaptation. There is a need to lobby for long-term adaptation financing where we can test the technologies, the innovations, the attitude changes to support LDCs to adapt. 

Emphasis has been on supporting climate-smart agriculture because we know that over 85 per cent of our population depends on agriculture for their income and survival. 

AN: Is Uganda looking at possibilities for local financing and funding?

TK: Internally as a government, Uganda can find local financing. It may not be enough but it can do something. Internally there is also something we can do to support some of these adaptation activities. We need to change the mindsets; we need to build capacity, with or without the finances.

AN: What about loss and damage? Is it an important issue for Uganda? Can you give examples of situations where loss and damage has occurred?

TK: Of course loss and damage is an important issue for Uganda. For example, under agriculture, the Prime Minister's Office conducted a study on losses as a result of climate change and it was costed at US$470 million. That's really a big loss!

There was also the drought of 2008, it was estimated to have caused loss of $27 million and that's really big. Also in terms of infrastructure, annually, the report says there are losses of $20-130 million and if these issues of climate change are not addressed, by 2050 it is estimated that we shall be losing between $189-839 million. Those are just examples. 

A father and son record measurements from a rain gauge on their farm in Western Uganda. Changes in rainfall patterns could significantly impact rural populations (Photo: J. Recha/CCAFS, Creative Commons via Flickr)

As a country, we know the big disasters that have happened, the landslides in Bududa-eastern Uganda, where people lost lives and property, and it's hard to cost lives. How do you cost lives? The floods in Kasese-western Uganda that washed away referral hospitals, homes, property, crops, everything! The floods in Teso region which destroyed infrastructure, entire bridges were washed away, roads; the Karamoja drought where large numbers of animals died. 

AN: If a loss and damage mechanism is included in the agreement, how do you think it will be funded?

TK: That is even harder to answer because we are struggling with even bigger issues – priority issues as a country at the moment and the funding is not in place. When you look at our costed implementation strategy for the National Climate Change Policy, we expected to raise 70 per cent of the budget from international donors. As a country we are contributing only 30 per cent. 

So if you add loss and damage, I am not sure we would be able find that kind of funding. But, like I said before, by strengthening systems, we can contribute to reduction of loss and damage.

AN: Have we looked at the potential for private finance? For climate change generally, not just about loss and damage.

TK: The weakness we have is that we have somehow not looked at the role of the private sector in climate change adaptation and mitigation. You rarely see private sector participating at national forums and yet climate change is impacting them as well. And sometimes, they even have the resources to contribute.

We have tea companies, and when you look at studies done, most of them are going to be affected in the long term, and they need to be part of the action around climate change. We have sugar companies, we have Telecom companies who would contribute in disseminating weather information, but are we using them? 

AN: The INDCs submitted so far suggest the world is on track for 2.7 degrees of global warming (according to the Climate Action Tracker – while the convention sets a goal of 2 degrees. What can LDCs do to raise the ambition of emitting countries?

TK: The strategy is that Uganda has committed to reduce 20 per cent of the emissions in the country by 2030. But we also need to table the actions that can be supported by developed countries because, like I said, we don't have the financing to do all that.

This interview also appeared in the Daily Monitor newspaper on 18 November, 2015.