As the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) draws to the end in Glasgow Scotland, I get concerned as a member of the Community Based organisations (CBOS) fraternity based in the Albertine region of Uganda where the question of climate change is becoming complex amidst oil and gas development.
I think the COP26 and other UN instruments on climate is better positioned to devise mechanisms to combat climate change and its effects when they directly involve people at grass root level for discussions before making resolutions.
On such a United Nations (UN) Summit on Climate Change, heads of states will always present false reports about the progress made to prevent climate change in their respective countries.
They will always want to show the international community that they are working when in real sense they are relaxed and determined to see economic and political progress sometimes at the expense of environmental protection which is key towards fighting the effects of climate change.
The presence of grass root persons like us could give a clear picture to the international community alongside the reports and ideas officially presented by government.
This is based on the fact that many governments in developing countries like making decisions without appropriate consultation of those they work on behalf.
I will be honest with you that forests are being degraded at a high rate in the Albertine region including Bugoma tropical forest which is the second largest central forest reserve in Uganda.
Wetlands, too, are being facing it rough as government entities mandated to protect them cite insufficient funding, understaffing and political interference as some of the challenges they face.
Those bodies include the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the National Forestry Authority (NFA).
I think the question of directly engaging grass root persons to protect the resources that determine the rate of climate change should be taken seriously as they organise COP27 if it is not possible at COP26.
What can we save?
Limiting to 1.5 degrees Celsius the global temperature is our collective responsibility.
Climate change affects us all regardless of colour, nationality, social or even political statuses.
I, however, agree that the poorest are the ones to be hit harder at the beginning as the rich stand next on the line.
We still hope that despite our absence, the COP26 like other UN conferences on climate change will come up with big measures and actions on climate change to help us.
However, my concern remains on whether the resolutions to mitigate climate change impact the ordinary citizens of member states or the discussions will remain for the elite groups.
The 2021 IPCC report indicates clearly that climate change is happening on unprecedented scale, warning that human actions have and will continue to cause events such as extreme heat waves, heavy precipitation, drought and tropical cyclones much as there is still time to act.
IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change.
Relatedly, a recent report by “Bank Track” titled banking on climate chaos 2021 shared a shocking statistic indicating that the world’s 60 largest banks have invested over $3.8 billion into fossil fuels since the Paris Agreement of 2015 was signed.
The above two reports clearly suggest that despite the actions and measures taken at these massive events, little is being realised and or done to ensure that the goals of the conferences are delivered and actions enforced.
In my opinion, I think there is limited or no efforts being made to popularise the agreements and the intended actions.
This is coupled with the lack of political will especially by some leaders from some countries if not most of them which has perhaps limited information about climate change within the general communities and, thus, lack of demand for accountability from the ordinary citizens.
I come from a remote village in Hoima district and to be specific, Kabaale-Buseruka, an area that was earmarked by the government of Uganda to host the proposed Uganda’s oil refinery and other petro-chemical industries including an airport which is now about 60% complete.
In my recent interaction with different communities in my area especially women around there, they gave me an interesting experience.
They said it is increasingly becoming hard to predict weather arousing challenges in agriculture and had witnessed changes in planting seasons.
When asked whether they know what is causing these changes, majority think it’s God punishing them with a few pointing to human actions such as cutting down of trees to pave way for developments and including agriculture.
It showed me that information about climate change is still lacking among the rural communities.
I got to know about the COP26 on internet just because I have access to a smartphone. But how many people in my community have smartphones? The answer is that they are few. It is a challenge to many rural dwellers yet they are hosts of the cherished resources relied on to prevent climate change.
I have a reason to insist that the organisers of these important events should always take to capture the position of the ordinary citizens from member countries in regard to the affairs of conservation.
Unless some of these gaps are addressed, we shall continue to have wonderful events and actions best known to a few class of people and limited or no significant demand for accountability from the citizens.
Accountability and proper implementation of the resolutions will remain complex.
Finally, the UN secretariat and governments of different states especially in the global south should improve on citizenry involvement and participation on matters of climate change and work on building effective plans that will ensure the impact of the conferences descend down to the general population other than the dignitaries.
The writer, Mr Christopher Opio, is a Co-ordinator Oil Refinery Residents Association (ORRA) Kabaale-Buseruka, Hoima District.