Climate Change and Environmental Rights in the next decade
Climate change is the principal, most pervasive risk to the natural environment and human communities the world has ever faced. In the increasingly highly integrated Eastern Africa region, climate change, which is a key driver of environmental threats requires active responses that encourage peace, justice, development all crucial components, in the fulfillment of environmental rights.
Uganda and a majority of countries within the Greater East Africa region constitutionally confer on citizens, the right to a healthy environment which is the strongest form of legal protection available.
Crisis of mega proportions
The vulnerability of the East African region to climate change is augmented by its feeble adaptive capacity, great dependence on rain-fed agriculture, underpinned by less developed agricultural production systems.
The entire region thus faces a crisis of mega proportions without critical and target interventions. Handling this challenge requires a combined approach that brings together adaptation strategies and a vibrant environmental policy environment that is capable of adapting effectively to the menace of climate change.
Sound environmental governance
This thus calls for sound regional environmental governance, the rules, policies, and institutions that shape how communities interact with their environment within the region owed to be restructured. This is possible through the establishment of a flexible and dynamic policy environment, that regional governments can lay the foundations for smart environmental laws and policies that help protect the environment from degradation and fulfill environmental rights obligations. Environmental rights are determined by the constitution, court decisions, environmental laws, as well as ratified human rights and environmental treaties in the country or locale. One key element to consider is that most regional governments already have environmental laws, the central question is the how-to effectively apply these laws.
Building political will & technical capacity
The best laws in the East Africa region, will not make any difference if states do not have the political will to take them seriously and to enforce them. Furthermore, even where one state does its utmost to implement environmental laws, any complacency by other regional actors makes it difficult for the law to succeed regionally. One example is that of the banning of single-use plastic in East Africa, where the implementation of such laws was uneven across the region. Conservation of trans boundary resources is another example that calls for closer regional collaboration. The measure of success for such consequently remains mixed. Closely linked to the question of political will, which applies across every country in the region, is the question capacity, this is varied, it includes, technical capacity, financial capacity, and the infrastructure to enforce the environmental laws.
The coming decades offer both a set of opportunities and threats. Where farmers, cannot rely on climate as they have for millennia and hence cannot make crucial, sometimes livelihood improving decisions, then environmental governance becomes the key mover for the achievement of sustainable development. This is fundamentally because, the undivided nature of the environment and its inextricable links with the social and economic dimensions of sustainable development relies on good decision-making processes, effective institutions, policies, laws, standards, and norms.
The states within the East Africa region should thus focus on climate adaptation and resilience including increased climate resilience through improved climate-smart agriculture practices and increased renewable energy generation capacity. Extensive use of strategic forecasts will contribute to the mitigation agenda in the region. Whereas mainstreaming climate resilience and adaptation is essential, a global focus would also be vital with regional states working to meet their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted under the Paris Agreement.
Furthermore, a closer working relationship with global bodies such as UNEP would be critical. UNEP backs regional processes to bring to the attention of regional states, global environmental issues. The focus also includes strengthening capacities to mainstream environmental sustainability in national sustainable development such as UNDAF, Poverty and the Environment Initiative (PEI). Regional governments in East Africa and other actors can therefore address climate change in a manner consistent with their obligations to respect, protect, promote and fulfill environmental rights.
The impacts and costs of climate change will depend substantially upon the rapid development and widespread dissemination of a wide variety of new climate change mitigation and adaptation technologies. In the years to come, legislation that supports climate change mitigation technologies would comprise a critical plank in support of environmental rights, in the East African region.
Climate Communications Advisor
Strategic Forecast Uganda