Building Climate-Ready Communities: Why Science, Technology & Innovation matters to us all

For the last 10 days, over 20,000 delegates from 200 countries have been at the Glasgow Climate Conference discussing ways to keep climate change under control. This global discourse around climate change points towards one fact; we are in a climate emergency and researchers say that we have seven years to fix it before it is too late. One of the world’s most pressing concerns is how to stay beneath the carbon budget, which refers to how much carbondioxide countries can release into the atmosphere before the world is guaranteed to warm at at least 1.5 degrees celsius as set by the goals of the Paris climate agreement. 

Research shows that if we are to go at the rate of the current carbon emissions, before 2030, the world will have depleted its 1.5-degree carbon. This will only mean grave consequences for the world and some of these consequences are already occurring. 

According to the provisional World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) State of the Global Climate 2021 report, based on data for the first nine months of 2021, the past seven years have been the warmest ever recorded. These rising temperatures have resulted in heat waves, melting glaciers and floods in various areas of the globe.  

To make our dire reality tangible, two artists Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd set up a climate clock in New York on 20th September 2020 drawing from data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 

 The ever-ticking clock depicting the amount of time left in years (7 years), months, days, and hours down to the last second serves as a physical reminder about the imminent crisis. The clock also depicts the earth’s carbon budget which if depleted, based on current emission rates would thrust the world into turmoil and suffering through more flooding, more wildfires, worsening famine and extensive human displacement, according to the artists. 

When Secretary-General António Guterres spoke at the 2019 Climate Action Summit in September 2021, he said that “the climate emergency is a race we are losing, but it is a race we can win.”  

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250, 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.  

It further says that this will have direct damage costs to and in health-determining sectors such as agriculture, and water and sanitation that will amount to $2-$4 billion (Shs7.4 trillion – Shs14.8 trillion) annually by 2030. 

One of the unfortunate facts stated by WHO is that countries with the least contribution to this crisis which are Low Developing Countries will suffer the most adverse effects and have the least means to cope. 

WHO advises that to counter the impending crisis globally, we need to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases through adopting better transport, food and energy choices that can result in improved health, particularly through reduced air pollution. 

Uganda together with other sub-Saharan counterparts including Chad, Niger and the Central African Republic have an average footprint that amounts to about 0.1 per year according to Our World in Data, 2017. This makes them rank as countries with the lowest carbon prints per capita. The statistics further show that this carbon print is 160 times lower than what the United States of America, Australia and Canada emit.  

However, even with this admirably low carbon print, Uganda is experiencing the effects of climate change as well. According to data from the Climate Risk Profile: Uganda (2021) Average temperatures in Uganda have increased by 1.3°C since the 1960s. Notably, minimum temperatures have increased 0.5–1.2°C for this period with maximum temperatures increasing by 0.6–0.9°C.18. The report shows that we now have more hot days and hot nights. Hot days in Uganda have increased by 74 days (an additional 20% of days) between 1960 and 2003. The most significant increase has been observed in June, July, August in which hot days increased by an average of 8.6 days per month. 

Even our rainfall volume and frequency have been affected according to the report. It states that Uganda has experienced a statistically significant reduction in annual as well as seasonal rainfall with decreases of 6.0 mm per month, per decade. This decline in rainfall has been observed in some northern districts; Gulu, Kitgum, and Kotido. The decreasing rainfall has been followed by longer periods of drought. Specifically, over the past 20 years, the western, northern and northeastern regions have experienced more frequent and longer-lasting drought conditions. 

At the United Nations climate conference of 2015, Uganda pledged to further reduce its carbon emissions by 22 per cent by the year 2030.  

On a government level, Uganda put in place a National Climate Change Policy which provides direction to all sectors that are affected by climate change to facilitate adaptation. 

The policy aims to mitigate and strengthen coordination of efforts amongst all sectors to build an overarching national development process that is more resilient. In doing this, the policy hopes to; reduce the country’s vulnerability to climate change impacts, to address the challenges brought about by extreme weather events such as increased warming, droughts, unpredictable rainfall patterns, floods and to increase the resilience of the economy while allowing the economy to benefit from some opportunities brought about by climate change. 

Uganda consists of various communities that have a stake in this and thus it is important that these scientific facts relating to climate change trickle down to the last individual. There is a need to empower communities with information and solutions that can enable them to reduce their carbon footprint and contribute towards the conservation and preservation of the earth. 

The question of how to achieve this is answered by the business adviser of Uganda Green Enterprise Finance Association (UGEFA), Ancel Ochino Bwire. He believes that the solution is in the creation and support of Green businesses and since 2020, this is what UGEFA have been working towards. 

UGEFA is a Ugandan initiative funded by the European Union and implemented by ADELPHI and Finding XY. Its primary focus is towards transitioning sustainably to a green economy that is driven by Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) that work with financial institutions to build and scale innovative products and services, that further create jobs in green sectors.  

Bwire says the initiative which started in 2020, was inspired by the urgency of the climate crisis which requires as many if not all hands-on board to mitigate. Towards this goal, UGEFA with the help of the European Union took on the task of supporting the creation of scalable climate-conscious businesses through capacity building and co-creation with financial institutions to facilitate access to tailored missing middle finance.  

Their process involves a call for businesses that are centred around climate change, after selecting eligible businesses, they prepare them for funding by taking them through a catalyzer. The catalyzer is followed by funding of $10,000-$100,000 (Shs37 million – Shs370 million) worth of loans. Businesses that have received funding are further taken through an accelerator program that prepares them to scale. To further support the businesses, UGEFA pays back a third or 33 per cent of every loan taken by a green business.  

“We have 83 green companies going through the accelerator program. The companies are in the categories of eco-tourism, clean energy, sustainable transport, waste management and green manufacturing and agro-processing,” Bwire says. 

Only a year old, Bwire says that UGEFA has experienced a couple of challenges for which it has recommendations that key stakeholders can act upon to make a green future a reality. 

Bwire hopes that organizations with databases of SMEs could provide them with access to their pool because it is not easy finding SMEs in the sector.  

On a policy level, UGEFA recommends that the Uganda National Bureau of Standards works on more standards for green businesses. With better collaboration towards supporting green businesses, communities in Uganda will be better equipped to control the growing crisis. 

As UGEFA supports Green businesses, Elvis Kadhama,28, Founder of Pearl Entrepreneurs Academy Ltd (PEAL) is providing holistic last-mile solutions to socio-economic and environmental challenges faced by low-income communities through providing access to clean energy.  

 Kadhama’s cause springs from a tragic experience, where one of his acquaintances, a mother, lost her two daughters in a kerosene lamp induced fire that torched their house. Since then, Kadhama has made it his cause to supply safe and sustainable energy equipment to rural communities that live off the grid of electricity. Through a friendly payment plan, PEAL supplies a range of products that reduce the emission of pollutants into the atmosphere. The products include Solar lamps that are substituted for Kerosene lamps, Energy-saving cooking stoves that are smoke-less, Solar home systems and water filters.  

Kadhama says that by adopting sustainable and clean energy, low-income households save the two-four dollars per week which are spent on kerosene. These interventions also reduce the costs of firewood as well as the rate at which trees are cut down for fuel thanks to the use of cost-effective cooking stoves and water filters. 

Since 2018, PEAL has reached 3000 customers and sold over 6000 products in Mayuge district which is in the Eastern region of Uganda.  

Kadhama says that PEAL is also doing sensitization about climate change to the communities.  

“Before they buy our products we explain health, financial and environmental benefits. We take them through lessons on how they affect the environment with their choices,” Kadhama says. 

He hopes that the fight against climate change can be a concerted effort. At the Glasgow Climate Conference, nearly 200 countries are being asked to submit new plans to reduce their carbon emissions. Wealthy countries are expected to give $100 billion to help poorer countries who are not responsible for most past emissions to cope with the crisis. The conference will be a success if countries recommit to net zero emissions by 2050 and huge reductions by 2030.  

As we celebrate the World Science Day for Peace and Development on Wednesday and the climate conference concludes this Friday, the Future Lab Lead at The Innovation Village, Samantha Niyonsaba Karama says building climate-ready communities is work that requires efforts from every stakeholder in the ecosystem. She commends the crucial role that science plays in illuminating the crisis at hand by providing data on the status quo while also providing solutions countering the crisis.  

As we celebrate the World Science Day for Peace and Development on Wednesday, the Future Lab Lead at The Innovation Village, Samantha Niyonsaba Karama says building climate-ready communities is work that requires efforts from every stakeholder in the ecosystem. She commends the crucial role that science plays in illuminating the crisis at hand by providing data on the status quo while also providing solutions countering the crisis.  

“We know that climate change is urgent because of scientific research and empirical evidence,” she says. 

To address the issue of climate change and build better-prepared communities, The Energy Lab at The Innovation Village is providing support and mentorship to entrepreneurs creating frugal innovations that result in groundbreaking technologies that will help individuals and communities to slow down climate change. 

The Future Lab has provided mentorship through its accelerator programs towards entrepreneurs in the Transport sector, who are reducing carbon emissions from cars through their innovations. It has provided mentorship and funding to Ecoplastile, a company that is reducing plastic waste and combating deforestation through the recycling of plastic waste to create Plastic Timber and pavers.  

Niyonsaba says it is only through collaboration, combining the private sector, innovators, technology, and the public sector that communities can be supported as they transition into environmentally conscious and climate change combative livelihoods.  

“We may not have a lot of time, but it is achievable and as the Energy Lab, we stay optimistic that innovation and collaboration can get us there,” she says. 

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