Renowned for its remarkable biodiversity and rich commercial output of coffee and bananas, Uganda is significantly at risk from the impacts of climate change. Across multiple different industries and in many connected social elements, knock-on effects from extreme weather, such as floods and extended droughts, are devastating the lives, livelihoods and future prospects of its people. Climate change is driven by many factors, including Arctic melting, which contributes to global change and can have devastating repercussions for Uganda.
With COP28 around the corner, key themes such as climate adaptation, the results of the Global Stocktake and the much-disputed Loss and Damage Fund have been thrown into the spotlight. Ahead of the climate summit, the progress and future hurdles facing SDG achievement at the halfway mark to 2030 were considered at the SDG Forum in September. Reports from the SDG Forum and those leading up to COP28 confirm a clear consensus: there is an undeniable connection between addressing climate change and SDG achievement. This link has become more explicit amid global challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the rising frequency of extreme weather events, including prolonged droughts, floods and El Niño events.
Within the global climate landscape, some countries have a greater capacity for climate adaptation than others and there is often a high correlation between a country’s ability to adapt and its progress in achieving the SDGs. Instances of extreme weather and climate change are occurring globally, but some countries and communities have greater resources than others. This makes climate change an inherently political issue – as reflected in the COP28 agenda. The proposed Loss and Damage Fund reflects the condition that in many cases, countries that have contributed least to global greenhouse-gas emissions are most at risk of the negative impacts of climate change. Uganda is one of them.
The Link between Arctic Change and Uganda’s SDG Progress
The Arctic serves as a critical regulator of the Earth’s climate, with its expansive ice and snow cover playing a vital role in reflecting sunlight to maintain the planet’s temperature balance. Nevertheless, the accelerated melting in the Arctic is leading to the emergence of darker surfaces that absorb more sunlight, resulting in increased heat absorption. This not only contributes to the rise in global average temperatures but has also caused the Arctic to warm at a rate four times faster than the global average over recent decades. This disproportionate warming disrupts atmospheric circulation patterns that depend on temperature differentials. As a consequence, this disruption can trigger extreme temperature and precipitation events in distant regions, impacting factors such as food security in Kenya.
Should the Arctic lose its sea ice and snow cover, global warming could accelerate by 25-40%, elevating risks worldwide, including those in Uganda. Of the sixteen climate tipping points identified, nine are located in polar regions, and five of these are already on the brink of tipping. Although the changing conditions in the Arctic are not the sole catalyst for climate shifts in Uganda, various factors, such as increased solar energy absorption due to melting Arctic ice and shifts in jet streams due to differing warming rates, have cascading effects on the country’s weather patterns.
Climate Crisis Amplified by Arctic Melting: A Socioeconomic Risk for Uganda
Agriculture is a key industry in climate vulnerable Uganda, it contributes roughly 37% of the GDP and plays a vital role in ensuring the food security of its citizens. Increasing temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns, and more frequent extreme weather events like droughts and floods can negatively affect crop yields and livestock health.
Over the past 30 years, Uganda’s coffee-producing regions have grown drier and hotter, with increasing annual temperatures and more variable rainfall. Trends such as these can result in pests, diseases, soil erosion and cause irregular coffee flowering.
Water resources are also vulnerable, with changes in rainfall patterns impacting water availability and groundwater depletion, leading to water scarcity and an increased potential for waterborne diseases. Disease transmission is known to increase after flooding, as stagnant water offers breeding opportunities for mosquitoes that have the capacity to transmit malaria to humans.
Uganda faces an increasingly severe malaria crisis due to the impacts of climate change. With more than 12 million cases reported in 2021, Uganda has the world’s greatest malaria incidence rate.
Reduced water availability can also increase waterborne disease prevalence, as are forced to rely on polluted water sources. This has serious health impacts and also affects livestock, which in turn has a knock-on effect on livelihoods and national food security.
Uganda’s rich biodiversity and ecosystems are also threatened by climate change. Shifts in vegetation patterns, altered species distributions, and habitat loss impact wildlife and the ecosystem services provided to local communities. In the last 100 years, Uganda has lost 41.6% of its forest cover. This not only reduces a vital carbon extraction mechanism from the ecosystem, but on a more tangible level, reduces the availability of charcoal as a cooking fuel resource. Moreover, it makes the land more vulnerable to extreme weather impacts such as flooding and mud/landslides.
Climate impacts in Uganda have large-scale and deadly effects. In northeastern Uganda, the prolonged drought in 2022 left more than 518,000 people hungry and resulted in more than 200 deaths from starvation.
Food insecurity has clear and devastating results, yet the effects on the achievement of other SDGs are less evident. At particularly high risk of the impacts of food insecurity are SDG 4 (quality education) and SDG 5 (gender equality).
During periods of resource scarcity, gender inequality often becomes exacerbated. Factors like prioritizing the education of male children due to limited resources and increased labor needs falling onto women exacerbate inequalities. Furthermore, women are at risk of violence due to increased exposure whilst traveling long distances to collect drinkable water, and from the increased likelihood of domestic violence during times of high stress.
Uganda’s domestic infrastructure, including roads, bridges, public and private buildings, public transport and energy infrastructure are vulnerable to the impacts of extreme weather. Flash floods are especially threatening – with little warning to prepare adaptation mechanisms, vast quantities of water can wash away huge and vital structures.
In May 2023, the Katonga River flooded, washing away a bridge that contained a key road between Kalungu and Gomba. Vital to the achievement of its SDGs is Uganda’s capacity to develop key infrastructure that facilitates transport and provides resources, such as energy, to its people. Whilst large scale efforts and resources have been invested to this end, the increasing impacts of climate change not only act to halt this progress – but in many instances reverse it.
Uganda recognises the importance of addressing climate change and has developed strategies and policies to mitigate and adapt to its impacts. Efforts include promoting sustainable agriculture and infrastructure in collaboration with the World Bank, enhancing water resource management, conserving biodiversity, and improving public health systems. However, international cooperation and support are crucial to effectively cope with the challenges posed by climate change, including those driven by the Arctic.
For more information about how the Arctic affects Africa please click HERE.
The following gauges show up-to-date data regarding key indicators in the Arctic. These indicators clearly point to the crisis at hand.