It is known that climate change is not happening for the first time. What has rather changed is the speed at which it is happening
By Paul Byambugana Asiimwe
Environmental Degradation and Climate Change are blood sisters. Recently young people have come out actively demanding for the world to take stronger action to fight climate change.
A 16-year old Swedish environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, has been organizing global climate strikes called Fridays for the Future. Our own Ugandan girl, Leah Namugerwa of Seroma Christian High School in Mukono, has been doing the same in Uganda, focusing on calling for a ban on plastics. The effort of these two young girls is commendable.
In Namugerwa’s case, she has been spot on, tackling climate change from the environmental perspective, particularly waste, one of our everyday challenges. While Climate change has captured much media attention recently, the discussions held are often polarized due to differing interests and its base in science not understood and accepted by all. Based on what science tells us, actions on climate change need to build on the principle of sustainability, an understanding that nature must be treated and protected in a way that ensures the wellbeing of individuals, the community, future generations as well as protecting its capacity to regenerate itself.
International discourse on climate change is often technical in nature and/or held at a high political level. These discussions are central but also important is the link to the realities, daily needs, challenges and abilities of individuals and the efforts by citizens and communities to safeguard their own future. People affected by climate change may not use the same language that is being used in conference halls and in government offices but have much to share and a key role to play relating to adaptation, mitigation, loss and damage.
There has been a lot of focus on what needs to be done at the international and national levels with a limited focus on what individuals, communities and other players can do at a local level. What is clear is that at all levels in society – also individuals and communities – must be engaged, involved and take actions that respect, wisely utilize and protect our environment.
Climate change is usually understood from the perspective of provision or deprivation of goods and services, or vulnerability such as when floods, droughts, landslides and pest outbreaks occur. For example, a farmer understands climate change from a perspective of when rains do not come in time for his planting.
Open access to public resources, resource maximization, individualism, globalization, privatization and corruption have fueled the highest rate of degradation of environmental resources like air, water, land, fisheries, forests, wetlands and others in developing countries, yet such new realities have emerged with efficient technologies and production that could improve management of our environment and natural resources.
Namugerwa excels by contextualizing the problem at our local level. Most Ugandans have used plastics and are aware of how they are poorly disposed. A regular traveller on our roads has probably seen someone throw a water bottle out from a car window. It is probably easier to connect water drainages clogged by plastic bottles, and flooding in downtown Kampala than connecting flooding with climate change. This is where building the conscience of each individual on what he or she needs to do with that plastic bottle after use needs to start. Local actions are needed at village or community level to tackle environmental degradation.
It is known that climate change is not happening for the first time. What has rather changed is the speed at which it is happening. So how did the previous generations survive climate change? The answer is simple; our environment was well utilized and managed and it maintained its ability to self-regenerate, self-regulate and to provide alternative livelihood options and resilience. People could shift their farming to more suitable areas, turn to other food sources in forests like insects, fruits and bamboo shoots, shift to permanent water sources in wetlands and so many other options. This was critical for survival of the human race and other species. There is evidence that much of the tourism resources that we boast of like forests and wildlife in the Albertine rift of Uganda and DRC for example, survived due to shifting of species to such regions when suitable areas were reduced by climate. With the prevailing rates of environmental degradation, we are weakening the ability of our environment to protect us in the face of a changing climate.
So why does our management of our environment and natural resources become critical to addressing climate change? The starting point is to make the right attribution of our challenges to the right cause. While much of the environmental degradation like deforestation, wetland destruction, poor waste management has been known, there has been limited attention to consequences of these actions which has resulted in individuals, communities and nations not implementing appropriate actions.
We have to overcome the tendency is to blame obvious environmental risks like floods, landslides and poor harvests on nature even with or without the face of climate change. For example, it does not need rocket science to know that construction of narrow drainage channels, poor physical planning, poor waste disposal, wetland settlement can cause conditions for flooding in the city. It is a fact that even if climate change was not happening, we would not be immune to these risks.
While international and national actions are necessary, the missing link has been the wise use of our environment and natural resources which starts by taking responsible actions at individual, community and national levels.
There is a need to make a connection between our actions and the effects on our environment. We do not need complex models. The most we need is common sense, rationality and being true to ourselves. We need to ask ourselves as individuals, households, communities, businesses and as a nation; what can we do individually and collectively to make our environment protect us from climate change? It could be saving on the water and energy, disposing waste properly, protecting existing forests and wetlands, practicing best land management practices or switching to solar energy. The list is endless. When, the environment has been protected, we would have already achieved about 80% of our needed climate action. We should note that our individual actions may make a small impact but together our impact becomes greater.
The writer is a Programme Officer for Environment and Climate Change at the Embassy of Sweden