My name is Evelyn Acham. I am a passionate climate justice activist in Uganda. I organize climate strikes with Fridays for future, the international movement of school students striking for bold climate action. I am a national coordinator of the Rise up movement, an active member in Youth for future Africa.
Several experiences brought me into climate activism. I grew up in a country that experiences tropical climate which has two seasons, the wet and dry season. My understanding at that time was that this was the norm globally. The education system did not do me justice because it did not emphasize the urgent need for climate action. As much as the government leaders have tried, I am still disturbed by the fact that the law in Uganda doesn’t strongly address climate change. What hit the nail in the head for me was watching my friend and colleague Vanessa Nakate’s individual strikes on the streets of Kampala. Seeing the passion and vigor that this young woman had to save the planet triggered my interest. I also carried out research to understand the impacts of climate change in my country. My findings clearly led me to start climate activism after learning that climate change threatened the people in my country. Climate change is one of the major threats to Uganda’s sustainable development and efforts to end poverty. My country has experienced increased adverse weather patterns such as prolonged droughts in the North, landslides in the East and devastating floods in the West. One and half years ago, residents in Kasese district in western Uganda woke up to floods that wreaked havoc on livestock, crops and human life. Local media reported that the floods killed one person and displaced another 8,000 from the 9 affected sub-counties. Since 2013, the district has been grappling with floods that often cause river banks to burst. Currently Lake Victoria has reached alarming levels from October-2019 up to date that is from 12.00 cubic meters to 13.32 cubic meters and are expected to rise even more. This has resulted into floods and some homes have been submerged hence displacing and leaving thousands of people homeless. Flooding water is a breeding place for mosquitoes and other killer diseases like cholera. Heavy rains have created perfect breeding conditions for locusts and these have been caused recently by a powerful cyclone off Somalia. Some forecasters suggest that an increase in the frequency of Indian Ocean cyclones could be due to global heating, which leads to more regular swarming in Africa. The swarms have already destroyed tens of thousands of hectares of crops in North Eastern Uganda. Thousands of people already short of food could face famine. Farmers in North Eastern Uganda now face food shortages, as the plague consumes both crops in the field and in storage. In general, Ugandan farmers will continue to face significant challenges including a deteriorating natural resource base and ecosystem, reduced access to land due to rising population. Erratic rain would increase post-harvest storage losses of crops typically dried in the sun. It is the poor and vulnerable who feel these impacts the hardest, Northern Uganda has the highest proportion of households most vulnerable to climate change as more than 80% of them rely heavily on low productivity subsistence crops because of prolonged droughts experienced throughout the year.
2030 is cited as the year when changes in the climate will become irreversible. The international Paris climate agreement set the desired global average temperature to be 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C). It was accompanied by a stern warning from scientists to not exceed 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The more the world emits, the IPCC said, the lower the chance of meeting the desired temperature. Given the uncertainties associated with permafrost thawing and wetlands releasing carbon, methane and other non-carbon dioxide emissions.
Most scientists who keep track of country emissions say there’s an emissions gap between the Paris climate agreement and country emissions pledges that will put us closer to a 3°C world than a 2°C world.
We already see how dangerous a 1°C warmer world of today is, where climate change has made extreme weather events much more severe. These events will only get worse with a 1.5°C increase. According to the IPCC special report on 1.5°C, 70 to 90 percent of warm water coral reefs would likely die, and, with a 2°C increase, food availability in southern and northern Africa, the Amazon, central Europe, and the Mediterranean would be further reduced.
Most Governments have not done much to enact policies in line with Paris agreement goals.
We are also in the midst of the 6th mass extinction with up to 200 species going extinct every single day. The extinction rate is between 1000 to 10,000 times higher than what is seen as normal. The future is scary. Most of the leaders are only talking and giving empty promises but they are not taking action because if they did, then the emissions would have gone down by now. The planet is warming because of increased greenhouse gas emissions that might lead to ice caps melting, global temperatures rising even more. Leaders need to understand that this crisis is very severe. The climate crisis is severe.
We still have a 67% chance of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. We already have the facts for this crisis, all we need to do is take action. We need to protect the air, the oceans and the forests.
I started using the internet which is considered to be “a global village “to create awareness about climate change. I believed that through the internet, with the help of different social media platforms my message could reach millions of people so I started by writing a climate related message on a placard, taking a photo and sharing the message on social media. Later I took it to the streets of Kampala where I do both individual and group strikes. I have also taken the climate change awareness to schools since our education system does not clearly address the urgent need of climate action. I also plan on starting climate action clubs in schools that will raise leaders who will cause positive impact on our planet. I have worked on digital actions with other climate activists and groups across the world like the Rise up movement, Fridays for future, Defend the defenders among others because I believe that climate change is a global challenge that has no borders and to combat it, it requires coordinated work by everyone, and all countries. I am working on a project that involves tree planting. It’s aiming at door to door sensitization of 9 million households in Uganda about the advantages of planting a tree and why it is a must. I have named this project +1TreeUg .I believe this will not just reverse the climate change effects but also increase awareness on climate change in different communities.
If I were in a leadership position, I would ensure creation of green jobs for example recycling of plastics which is the biggest pollutant of earth’s oceans through weaving artistic and fashionable baskets. This can help reduce the unemployment rate which is at 1.79%, plastics can also be used in the place of bitumen and Ta in the construction of roads and it has been proven to make long lasting roads and yet the resources are cheaply available. I would influence fellow leaders especially in the education sector to include climate change studies in the education system and also introduce practical lessons on climate action like tree growing. I would put strict laws that govern climate justice and accountability and also promote the use of energy saving technology as a means of mitigating climate change effects for example use of energy saving stoves for cooking and solar energy for lighting instead of clearing trees for wood fuel.
We can involve as many young people as possible by organizing fun activities that bring young people together like climate marathons, climate oriented youth boot camps among others. Supporting other climate activists by amplifying their voices especially those from the most affected communities would help to tell the stories of climate activists from different parts of the world. Persistent creation of awareness about climate change and its impacts through education. Some people are not involved because they are not informed.
Inform yourself and try to understand the situation. Find a group of like minded people and work with them. Never underestimate your power of leadership. You have a lot of power. There is power in people coming together and fighting for what they believe in. Thank you.