The EfD Mak Centre Uganda in collaboration with EfD-Tanzania on 24th June, 2020 held a Webinar with a purpose of distilling lessons learned from the COVID-19 response and how these can be transposed to climate change campaign. The Webinar also highlighted how COVID-19 recovery packages can be harnessed to address climate change effects and curtail environmental degradation.The electronic meeting attracted over 70 participants including the representative from the EfD Secretariate in Sweden Dr. Franklin Amuakwa-Mensah, Center Director and Senior Research Fellow at EfD Tanzania Dr. Lokina Razack, the Director EfD-Ghana Prof. Akpalu Wisdom and Prof. Nnaemeka Chukwuone from University of Nigeria.
Representatives from Uganda government Ministries, Departments and Agencies including Mr. Aoron Welikhe from the National Planning Authority (NPA), Dr. Daniel Babikwa from the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) also participated. The meeting was also joined by students and staff from Makerere University.
The Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19) was declared a global pandemic on 11th March 2020. Countries world over are experiencing and trying to cope with its unprecedented rapid spread that has claimed many lives and devastated the social economic activities.
Given the absence of a vaccine, partial and total lockdowns, social distancing, wearing of face masks, handwashing and sanitizing were recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the global remedy for to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Accordingly, the Government of Uganda imposed a total lock down defined by closure of the national borders, the international airport save for cargo flights, and restriction of public gatherings, people movements and public and private means of Transport. As of 3rd June, 2020 there were 489 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 82 recoveries in Uganda.
In his main presentation the Director EfD-Mak Centre Uganda, Prof. Edward Bbaale said the COVID-19 pandemic has left a trail of direct negative impacts on the global economy entailing disruption of supply chains, collapse of businesses with the International Monetary Fund forecasting an imminent severe economic recession only second to the 1930’s economic depression.
“Other anticipated secondary impacts include; unemployment, food and nutritional insecurity and worsening of existing vulnerabilities such as climate change and social inequality with repercussions on progress towards achieving the Uganda Vision 2040 and the 2030 Agenda”. Prof. Bbaale said.
Prof. Bbaale noted that with climate change being an equally lethal challenge with life threatening effects, the response to COVID-19 will inevitably have implications on the scale and progress of global and local climate change actions.
The colossal recovery packages to revive economies according to Prof. Bbaale can go a long way in either worsening climate change or containing its effects to realize the Paris Agreement goals of limiting global average temperature rise to below 20C above the preindustrial levels by the end of this century.
Apart from the negative impacts Prof. Bbaale highlighted COVID-19 positive spillovers for the environment and climate change action globally and locally such as improvement in air quality, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and clearer skies emanating from reduced pollution owing to the restricted public and private transport and slowed factory and industrial activity.
“Specifically, the Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area registered improved air quality and reduced pollution. NEMA indicated 68.1% reduction in Nitrogen dioxide, 83.9% decline in particulate matter with an overall 50 percent reduction in air pollution in the Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area. Prior to this, Uganda’s air quality was six times (162(𝜇g/m3) worse than the WHO recommended levels (25(𝜇g/m3).” Prof. Bbaale said.
Prof. Bbaale however noted that the sustainability of these positive spillovers hangs in balance since they are likely to be wiped out upon the return to normalcy when the lockdown is fully lifted with emissions likely to rebound once mobility restrictions are lifted and economies recover, unless governments intervene.
Speaking on how the Climate Emergency and Threat Compares to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Prof. Bbaale said just like the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate emergency also moves in slow motion and comes with much graver effects- both involving market failures and economic externalities, international cooperation, complex science, questions of system resilience, political leadership, and action that hinges on public support.
He observed that many governments have already proposed and/or implemented sizeable fiscal rescue measures to protect balance sheets, reduce bankruptcies and address immediate human welfare concerns during lockdown periods, including through curtailing the spread of the virus and addressing incremental healthcare costs.
“Similar measures have been undertaken by the Uganda government. However; the question to spur the debate is; how inclusive are these responses towards addressing the severity of climate change effects in Uganda? What policies can the government implement to ensure that we build better after the Covid-19 crisis and work towards addressing the climate change.?” The professor asked.
He stated that without decisive government interventions to avert climate change, emissions will rebound once the lockdowns end and that, in the event of a rapid rebound, pent-up demand could even bring a short-term increase in Greenhouse Gas emissions above the long-term average as already seen in China, where mobility restrictions are being relaxed and factories are reopening.
On Making COVID-19 Response and Recovery Packages work for the Environment and Climate Change, Prof. Bbaale stressed that the COVID-19 crisis could mark a turning point in progress on climate change.
“This year, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will fall by more than in any other year on record. The percentage declines likely in 2020, however, would need to be repeated, year after year, to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and limit global average warming to below 2oC above pre industrial levels by 2100.
Therefore; just like covid-19 crisis, decisive state interventions are also required to stabilise the climate, by tipping energy and industrial systems towards newer, cleaner, and ultimately cheaper modes of production that become impossible to outcompete. It is also evident that public support for action on climate change is possible just like they have exhibited it during the COVID-19 pandemic together with government and corporate action.” He advised.
In his conclusion, Prof. Bbaale emphasized that the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that the government can intervene decisively when the scale of an emergency is clear and it has demonstrated that the public can willingly provide the necessary support to the state and abide by the prescribed regulations.
The pandemic according to Prof. Bbaale has also exhibited a major increase in the role of the government and the decisive intervention is showing some positive signs in stabilizing the infection rates, prevent health systems being overwhelmed, and lives have been saved.
He advised that this proactive responses and action ought to be replicated in the climate change action campaign if Uganda is to reduce its degree of vulnerability to climate change and also achieve a greenhouse gas neutral development pathway as espoused in the Uganda Vision 2040.
The key issues put forward to the participants to ponder during the debate included:
- Covid-19 pandemic has proved that the government can take a decisive lead in its containment. Can this be possible with the fight against climate change?
- The government has established District Task Forces in the decentralized governance. Can these DTFs go beyond the fight against Covid-19 and be sustained to fight against climate change and environmental conservation?
- There have been established whistle blowers and mechanisms for tracking the contacts of covid-19 suspects. Can these whistle blowers be established in the fight against climate change and environmental conservation?
- The public has been very cooperative and supportive reflected in the voluntary assistance in terms of material and monetary contributions to the government in the fight against covid-19. Could this support be mobilized in the same way to fight against climate change?
- How can the recovery programmes be tailored towards environmental conservation?
- How can the government work with the private sector, CSOs and academia to promote science, advocacy and implementation of the evidence-based policies in the area of environment and climate change?
- The government has passed supplementary budgets and made external borrowing the balance the economy against the impacts of the covid-19 pandemic. How can the planning and budgeting be tailored towards the fight against covid-19 in the long run.
- How can the government through the Kampala Capital City Authority consider long the long term planning for the roads in the city to consider walk ways, ride ways for bicycles to accommodate people who would like to continue with the walking or riding their bicycles in the post covid-19 Kampala?
- How can the government empower the Kiira motors company to increase its capacity to produce tailored buses to facilitate transport in Kampala metropolitan since these are rechargeable vehicles that do not emit gases to the environment?
Some of the panel discussions
Dr. Daniel Babikwa fron NEMA said the COVID 19 has been a crisis that attracted a crisis response. He said the institution has established systems of addressing waste with clear protocols.
“ We encourage people to reduce the amount of waste generated, adopt the use of reusable face masks. However the challenge of waste is huge. We are promoting behavioral change and waste management at individual level, separating biodegradable and non-degradable waste and we have private companies licensed to collect waste.”. Dr. Babikwa explained.
Aaron Welikhe from the NPA said the institution is responding to the transitory effects.
“COVID 19 found us at the end of the strategic plan (NDPII) but we did reviews to respond to transitory effects. We are improving on the welfare of Ugandans anchored in the NDPIII that is improve on food security, ensure social protection, agricultural production all related to climate change”. Mr. Welikhe said.
The Director EfD-Tanzania Dr. Lokina Razack said Tanzania took a different approach in the fight against COVID 19 including a partial lock down.
“We have taken measure in energy and tourism sector. We are encouraging work to be done remotely at home to reduce movement and emissions and also making internet connectivity stronger ”, He reported.
Nigeria’s Professor Nnaemeka Chukwuone said Nigeria announced the lock down on 28th March 2020 and was undergoing partial lifting. “We have formulated the Post COVID-19 Environmental Strategy and Climate Response Strategic Plan”, he said.
The representative from the EfD Secretariat Dr. Franklin Amuakwa-Mensah said there is quite a lot to do, to learn and a lot of opportunities. He emphasized the need to make environmental issues dorminant in the media to educate the public to protect the environment.
“The issue is how to communicate to the public the severity of environmental depletion and ensure that media is fully engaged.
Due to reduction in global demand there is agricultural decay, the issue of industrialization to meet our demands, more people are in poverty brackets and therefore destructive as they search for wood and survival, do deforestation and make bricks. The issue of water management i.e. handwashing, accessing water is a key issue hence the need to look at strategies put in place to manage what we have”. Dr. Amuakwa-Mensah submitted.
The Director EfD-Ghana Prof. Akpalu Wisdom said because of COVID 19 they (in Ghana) realized that harnessing fish had gone up as a silver lining of the pandemic and stocks may continue to decline. ‘There is a lot of interference from foreign investment especially the Chinese - a down ward trend in attraction of investment and capital”, the professor stated..