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Rethink plans to confront climate change

By Morrison Rwakakamba

Added 20th November 2020 11:10 AM

Rethink plans to confront climate change

Morrison Rwakakamba


Morrison Rwakakamba, the CEO of the Agency for Transformation on Monday, November 16 made a virtual keynote address about the state of the environment in Uganda before the Centre for Effective Global Action (CEGA) based in California in the US, which brings together over 180 research professors on climate change and poverty. Below is his presentation.

I was born on the foothills of Itemba mountain, in Nyebingo village, western Uganda in the late 1970s. An intact and pristine neighborhood is as clear as yesterday - at least in the deep corners of my memory.  Rivers - Kiborogota, Omukijurira-busha, Kanyeganyegye, Kanywa took their natural bends and wetlands of Muyorwa and Omukyisharu completed an undisturbed ecosystem that hosted birds, wildlife, small fish (esonzi) and supported farm enterprises like apiary and mulching for coffee and bananas farms.

From hustles far and beyond, frequently returning to my village now - where I am a practicing farmer, growing coffee and herding livestock, things have changed. The rivers vanished and wetlands are no more. My four children will, sadly, have no opportunity to walk the true lands of my past. There are no robust conservation and restoration efforts at the village level - and Rukungiri District local government.  

Similar situation is self-evident at the national level. According to Uganda's National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), the Country loses 80,000 hectares, up from 50,000 hectares of forest annually. Uganda's forest cover has been depleted to 8% up from 24% in the 1990s.

Ugandans are in shock regarding the planned takeover and demolition of part of Bugoma Forest, a protected tropical forest situated southwest of Hoima and northeast of Kyenjojo to plant sugarcane! This forest, gazated in the 1930s is endowed with high biodiversity with 24 species of mammals, 465 species of trees, 359 species of birds, 289 species of butterfly, and 130 species of moths. For now, pending Court action, the forest is safe. For how long? We continue to hope that logic prevails.

As a consequence, Uganda is now witnessing a climatic and environmental crisis.

The landslide that occurred in the Bududa district in eastern Uganda on March 1, 2010, killed 100 people and 94 bodies were found. Sadly, 350 people were never accounted for. According to news reports, at least 1,000 people have reportedly been killed by landslides in Bugisu Sub-region over the past 10 years, an average of 100 people killed every month! Even more, people have been displaced - with attendant challenges of disease, food insecurity, malnutrition, and famine.

Torrential rain on May 21, 2020, caused several rivers to overflow in Kasese district, in particular the Lhubiriha river. Eight people died. Homes were damaged and hundreds of people displaced. A bridge that connects Uganda to the Democratic Republic of Congo was destroyed. As many as 100,000 people were affected according to Red-cross.

In March 2020, swarms of desert locusts invaded Uganda from neighbouring Kenya through the North-eastern district of Amudat in Karamoja sub-region and caused mayhem in 20 districts in Teso, Lango, Acholi, and Sebei sub-regions. Along the way, locusts decimated crops and vegetation. According to Uganda's Ministry of Agriculture, Uganda lost an estimated $218.3m in export revenue from, especially maize, cotton, coffee, fruits, vegetables, and simsim exports.

In April 2020, Lake Victoria's water level scaled up to 13.12m, almost reaching the record high of 13.46m seen in 1964. This caused a floating island situation that choked the turbines of Nalubaale Hydro Power Station, causing widespread disruption and power outages across Uganda. The disoriented national electricity grid negatively impacted the supply of electricity in hospitals during this Covid-19 crisis, disrupted factories, businesses, and schooling.

There is so much we can do to halt the momentum of climate change, restore our fragile ecosystems, and green-up our economy.

We need to rethink planning, follow the evidence, and reform our national budget architecture to confront climate change and deliver on targets that would get us closer to meaningful decarbonisation.

Agriculture and specifically smallholder farming, a system that dominates most of sub-Saharan Africa is at the centre of this. Since the Maputo declaration 17 years ago, where governments committed to investing 10% of the national budget to agriculture, only a handful of governments have made a plausible attempt to implement this commitment.

Dedicated climate finance to smallholder farmers is critical: Only 1.7% of climate finance - a fraction of what is needed - goes to small-scale farmers in developing countries despite their disproportionate vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, according to a report released by the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Climate Policy Initiative (CPI) last week on November 12, 2020.

The report shows that while financing that supports actions to address climate change surpassed half a trillion US dollars for the first time in 2017 and 2018, only $10b of this reached smallholder farmers annually. This must change and should start with governments in sub-Saharan Africa, dedicating budget lines in national budgets for climate finance to smallholder farmers. This must be tracked and monitored to deliver on agreed targets.

Restoration of Wetlands: One critical approach beyond gazettement and environmental policing of wetlands is to invest in land-use change through smallholder livelihood enterprises to restore wetlands.

In Uganda, with support from Green Climate Fund, President Yoweri Museveni worked with fish farmers on the first-ever restored wetland demonstration project in Lumoto Parish of Putiputi sub-County, Pallisa District in Eastern Uganda. The Wetland was once destroyed by the people living around the area growing rice. People who were cultivating the wetland used to get only sh700,000 ($180) per year from one acre of rice. Now with the fish ponds on the same acre, farmers are getting sh70m ($18,000) per year. The project was started three years ago.

About 79 kilometres of Lumoto wetlands have been restored and five fishponds of 1,000 square meters each have been excavated and each has a capacity of rearing 6,000 fish, which enables a farmer to fetch between Shs.70 to 80 million per annum.

Restoration of forest cover through doubling down on clean cooking and renewable energy: According to Uganda's Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) 89% of the population use fuelwood as a source of energy! We, therefore, cannot end massive deforestation without sorting cooking. One way to take this forward is to subsidise and universalise use of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG).  According to UBOS, 0.5 - 1% of a population of 40 million use LPG and Uganda's 0.45kg per capita LPG usage is lowest in the East African region.  

In 2019, The Agency for Transformation wrote to Uganda's Ministry of Finance - and argued the case at 2020 Presidential Investors round table calling for among others; Implementation of Value Added Tax  (VAT) and import duty exemptions for LPG, LPG cylinders and stoves; Introduction of carbon tax/environmental permits on vehicles and motorcycles manufactured before the year 2016 to replace revenue loss from exemptions; Use tax revenue from Kerosene and environmental /carbon permits to finance universal LPG use awareness campaigns; Incentivise private sector to build storage facilities in order to ensure sufficient LPG stocks; Putting in place National regulation and safety standards for LPG. And Incentivising the production of LPG cylinders and accessories to further push down end-user prices.

In the 2020/2021 Financial Year, the Government granted 18% VAT exemption on LPG. We shall now need evidence to prove coloration between VAT exemption, uptake in the use of LPG, and increased forest cover in Uganda.

Green Jobs powered by solar and technology. Uganda's Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Capacity has grown by 250% over the past six years according to East African Solar Energy Report published by SolarPlaza in 2019. In fact, according to Global Off Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA) and Vivid Economics, 2018; the decentralised renewable energy industry, including both mini-grids and standalone solutions, is expected to directly employ 4.5 million people by 2030 globally.

This has been made possible by rapid advances in technology, with an increasing range of quality-verified products and components being offered at ever-lower prices (Lighting Global 2016).

For example, Fenix International has since 2010 connected more than 350,000 homes in Uganda with affordable, clean energy solutions - translating into 1.5 million citizens that now benefit from clean, renewable access to energy. Fenix International made over 160,000 electricity connections in 2018 alone (800,000 people) and projects to connect another 250,000 households in 2020 (1,000,000 people). There are opportunities to accelerate this through the deployment of end-user smart subsidies.

The foregoing numbers have had positive consequences for health of the population, better education outcomes and improved livelihoods.

Beyond conservation and restoration of fragile ecosystems, the future for green economy in Africa must focus and combine; green finance for Small and Medium Enterprises, climate-smart agriculture, green and connected cities, eco-tourism and natural resources, renewable energy upscaling, digitalisation and innovation, business incubators and accelerators - and green industrial parks.

Your work, that generates evidence, informs policy formulation and execution is needed more than ever before.

Stay Safe.

The writer is the CEO of the Agency for Transformation

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