Finding common ground to fight climate change

Kenya and Uganda break ground to tackle climate change and conflict together with the United Nations

Introduction by UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed

As much as this is a story about countries taking climate action for peace and development, it is also about how the United Nations works to support countries.

Resident Coordinators, the representatives of the Secretary-General in countries, lead UN country teams covering 162 countries and territories to support national priorities toward reaching the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

Country teams composed of different UN agencies have a mix of specialized knowledge and skills to support countries tackling different issues — from education and health to peace and security.

One of the roles of the Resident Coordinator is to help leverage and connect programmes and expertise of the UN agencies with partners to get the best results for people.

📸: UN Photo/Mark Garten

With 10 years to go before our 2030 deadline we have a decade of action ahead to achieve the SDGs. We are boosting our efforts to ensure no one is left behind. It’s exciting to see the new ways in which governments, communities and partners are coming together with UN teams to mobilize across borders especially when it comes to taking climate action.

Siddharth Chatterjee, the Resident Coordinator of Kenya and Rosa Malango, the Resident Coordinator of Uganda, teamed up to support the governments of Kenya and Uganda to create common ground so communities can sow the seeds of peace and prosperity for people and the planet.

The following is a guest post by Rosa Malango and Siddharth Chatterjee

Close to the Kenyan border, the small town of Moroto in north-eastern Uganda is known for its dukas: small shops that sell traditional woodwork, pottery and weavings.

📸: UN Uganda

The people of Moroto also raise cattle that graze on the surrounding scrub grassland. With 7500 inhabitants, the community depends on food crops such as corn and cassava, a starch that some of us know as yuca and manioc.

📸: UN Uganda

Like many other places in Africa, Moroto has been affected by climate change which has deeply impacted livelihoods, especially for women and children.

📸: World Food Programme

It is no coincidence that it has also become a conflict-prone area. Just beyond Moroto, at the Kenyan-Uganda border, conflicts that were previously contained and worked through at the local levels — started to escalate with political, economic, social and cultural implications across bordering countries.

For the families living in this area, the conflicts have had devastating consequences, from lost wages to losing loved ones. It’s led to a rupture of community social protection networks. It has also meant weaker political institutions of governance and the disruption of essential services. This destruction of traditional livelihoods also increased the number of people that are internally displaced, with no place to call home.

Living on the edge

This life on the edge scenario is being repeated in border towns across the world. Living near borders can mean limited government investments in sectors such as education, health and infrastructure — leaving communities inside a border but outside the periphery of modern development or the ‘fair globalization’ called for by the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Communities like the “Karamoja Triangle” can ill-afford to lose more ground. This ancient collection of communities with a shared socio-cultural heritage, live on the lands that straddle the borders between Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda.

Women, men and children from the area are highly vulnerable to climatic variations such as drought that renders households perennially without food and limited options for work.

In Turkana, in northwest Kenya, more than two-thirds of the population live below the poverty line; adult literacy is around 20% and, despite its huge potential for tourism, raising livestock and mineral deposits, its contribution to the national gross domestic product is less than 5%. Poverty and drought remain the main drivers of conflict.

Cross-border solutions

Climate action and development comes in all forms. For the town of Moroto it was a colourful ceremony on 12 September 2019.

📸: UN Kenya

The Governments of Kenya and Uganda broke ground on a new bi-national agreement for sustainable peace and development in the climate change affected and conflict prone Turkana-Pokot-Karamoja region, bordering the two countries.

It started with conversations a year earlier when ministers from Kenya and Uganda, held consultations in Uganda on how best to address conflicts and climate change.

The aim was to develop the Karamoja Cluster as a single socio-economic zone, with joint policies and programmes that will build opportunities and hope for communities particularly for young people.

📸: PSCU, Kenya

A shared journey to deliver the SDGs

Backed by the United Nations teams in Uganda and Kenya, we worked with the delegations to support the talks in a series of meetings over the course of a year in Kenya and Uganda.

The efforts focused on the people living on the Uganda-Kenya border, made vulnerable by impact of climate change and many with few options but to fight for resources in this semi-arid region.

Everyone’s hard work paid off — culminating in this event that marked a historic commitment by both governments to address challenges that transcend country borders to improve peace and stability, address climate change and open space for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

📸: UN Kenya

“If you don’t trade, you cannot create wealth. If you do not move, you cannot create wealth. And if you don’t create wealth, all you are doing is institutionalizing poverty. We want to eliminate poverty from our people,” President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta of Kenya said during the launch.

Uganda’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda was equally emphatic about the importance of peace in development. “This programme, in cooperation with the UN, is a programme that will help all of us to ensure that we have peace, our people live together and also to enable us develop, that is why we want the UN to advocate for greater infrastructure investments such as roads” he said.

This joint programme bridges the humanitarian, development and peace nexus to build resilient communities. Agenda 2030 and its 17 sustainable development goals, are guiding efforts by the UN in Uganda and Kenya to invest in indigenous capacities to detect, prevent and manage conflict triggers and also to mobilize support from national governments, business leaders and development partners.

Only by reaching the people left farthest behind and jointly addressing inequalities and exclusion, can we prevent the social fabric from fraying further and create a robust foundation for communities to experience peace and development.

📸: UN Kenya

As the two Resident Coordinators present at the event, the signing was a huge win of the seemingly intractable becoming possible. Our respective UN Country Teams have the persistence of purpose, the determination to continue build the sinews of peace. Our best bet are the SDGs as these are the best pathway for peace and prosperity for people and for the planet.

This is also the essence of the African Union Agenda 2063. African nations are looking towards a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development. African people want to eradicate poverty by increasing opportunities for youth employment, promoting modern agriculture, promoting climate smart industrialization, leading socially responsible management of natural resources and by participating in the innovation drive promised by science, technology and research to address well documented strategic bottlenecks.

As the UN Secretary-General observed, “the UN is uniquely placed to connect the dots to overcome the challenge of ensuring peace and security, promoting sustainable development and protecting human rights.”

📸: UN Uganda

We see this as a game-changer for people in the region that will improve livelihoods, promote eco-tourism, increase cross-border trade and spur development. We have a huge opportunity to transform the Karamajong cluster into a climate-smart corridor where positive traditional values meet technology and smart investments.

This is the dream that the UN Country Teams in Uganda and Kenya and our partners have for the two countries. Through the broader UN Comprehensive Prevention Strategy, our two teams will work with the two Governments to encourage joint action, nurture new partnerships, and facilitate a community informed strategic framework for peace and development across borders.

About the authors

Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator to Kenya

Rosa Malango is the UN Resident Coordinator to Uganda.