‘The Africa COP’: Cambridge researcher in Uganda describes climate change mayhem
Gabriel Okello, a research associate at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership (CISL), has outlined his concerns for Africa’s future wellbeing as ‘loss and damage’ financial assistance to global south countries was agreed at COP27.
Dr Okello is a Prince of Wales global sustainability fellow and research active expert at CISL, is an expert in renewable energy, air pollution assessment and human exposure science – the effects of car exhausts, biomass smoke and industry emissions on wellbeing.
He is currently based in Uganda, where he is studying the effects of extreme weather events, which are increasing in frequency and intensity.
“Africa has contributed 4 per cent to the global CO2 emissions, but it has disproportionately suffered from the impacts,” Dr Okello told the Cambridge Independent.
“These include occurrences of water-borne diseases such as dysentery, cholera, hepatitis E, vector-borne diseases, especially malaria, and malnutrition-related illnesses. The impacts are aggravated by various existing societal challenges such as poverty, rapid population growth, complex governance and institutional aspects occurring at various levels in the country.”
The damage being caused to Uganda’s land includes flash floods near Mount Elgon that “cause hundreds of deaths every year and displace thousands of people”.
Record heavy rains in 2020 raised the water level in Lake Victoria to its highest in 50 years and destroyed farmland, cattle, crops, property and infrastructure. Incidences of malaria and cholera subsequently rose alarmingly.
Locust infestations are an increasing worry.
“Even a small swarm of the insects can consume enough food for 35,000 people in a day,” says Gabriel, who is co-founder of the Africa Centre for Clean Air.
Shockingly, air pollution deaths in Africa are second only to malnutrition, and caused 1.1 million deaths in 2019 alone. The issue is centred on cities of course, where World Health Organization air quality guidelines are regularly breached.
The solution, says Gabriel, “requires adopting collaborative approach among the various societal actors in policy, business, community, and academia”. For instance, increasing the number of people with access to electricity. Adopting clearer household energy with “LPG, biogas, briquettes, ethanol and solar”.
But the first thing that Gabriel is looking for was a sense of urgency from leaders who attended COP27, the UN climate conference, which came to a close at Sharm El-Sheikh last week.
“Climate change is a huge worry to the people of Uganda given the effects being experienced,” Gabriel says.
“However, addressing climate change has to be integrated with existing societal challenges including poverty, rapid population growth and governance aspects occurring at various levels of society.
“My hope is for all nations, especially the rich nations, to step up the urgency to address climate change through policy, funding research, innovations and strategies that are addressing climate change.
“Resources should be allocated to initiatives building resilience against the existing and inevitable future impacts of the climate crisis.
“Heavy penalties should be introduced to the high-emitting countries and sectors. High emitting countries should also provide clear plans for decarbonisation. Subsidies should be provided to entities providing technologies and initiatives that are decarbonising communities.”
Gabriel is helping a collaborative approach to climate change issues and is also “translating the academic evidence into policy recommendations and using my current knowledge to spark action at strategic and policy level”.
He concludes: “I am investing time in communication and stakeholder engagement increase awareness about air pollution and climate change.”
The issue of providing financial assistance to poorer countries most affected by climate change proved one of the thorniest knots on the COP27 – sometimes called the ‘Africa COP’ – agenda. Several European leaders at COP27 – but not the US – announced funds to help such nations recover from the loss and damage which has largely been created by industrialisation.