Ugandan and Salford researchers join forces to tackle climate change

Categories: School of Health and Society

Nine Ugandan environmentalists are currently visiting the University of Salford as part of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission scheme (CSC), under the theme ‘Clean Energy, Clean Air and Clean Oceans.’ The Commonwealth Scholarship scheme is an international opportunity offered specifically to mid-career professionals, completing their master’s, who are looking to gain a greater understanding of the expertise needed for sustainable development.

The fellows are participating in multiple events and collaborations – one of which is working with a research team from Bolton. The international development objective set by the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission Scheme is to achieve ‘green air, green energy’. 

The Bolton team is led by Bryony O’Connor, who is completing a PhD funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research, at the University of Salford. Bryony is also an employee of Bolton Council. Bryony’s research approach is co-designed, with co-researchers and community members being involved in every stage. The co-researchers are from the local community in Bolton, and have a passion for and interest in tackling climate change. They also have extensive networks and knowledge of the local community which will be used to support the recruitment of participants. 

The team of fellows is made up of Lillian who is a civil engineer, Victor who is an electrical engineer, Bosco is a policy maker in the Kabarole District, Elvis is a town planner, Flavia is a midwife/nurse, Isaih is an environmental activist, Ronald works in solar healthcare, Frieda works within biomass and Peter studies construction and the environment. 

The aim of the fellowship is to develop skills and knowledge that can be used back in Uganda to successfully help develop ‘Clean Energy, Air and Oceans.’ The diversity of the fellows is essential as they bring crucial expertise from different sectors which is needed to develop a real-life multi-disciplinary approach.  

By having collaboration between the Ugandan fellows and the Bolton research team the aim is to identify common issues and develop solutions that can be implemented in both the UK and Ugandan setting.

Working with Public Health Bolton, Bryony’s research question is: ‘How can our communities in Bolton come together to make sustained change and accelerate our progress towards net-zero carbon emissions?’ Bolton Council is working towards net zero carbon emissions. Net-zero is defined as “cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible, with any remaining emissions re-absorbed from the atmosphere, by oceans and forests for instance” (United Nations, 2022).

The group discussed the approach that could be taken in reducing greenhouse gases here in the UK and in Uganda. Bosco commented that in order “to have an effect the approach needs to be narrowed down to a specific area… the activities that you plan to do are geared towards food, transport, waste, shopping habits, renewable energy”. One of the main issues that the group identified as contributing to greenhouse gas emissions which they could look to work on was waste, in particular food waste.

Over a third of the food produced/sold in the UK goes to waste. UK shops and supermarkets over-ordering, expiry dates on products, lack of knowledge and the hospitality industry has all led to food waste ending up in landfills across the UK. When food breaks down it releases methane a greenhouse gas that is twenty-eight times more potent than carbon dioxide. A Bolton co-researcher commented: “The UK is quite densely populated, and most people live in towns and cities meaning people can’t grow their own fruits and vegetables here. If people want to purchase organic fresh produce without packaging or chemicals, its more expensive. This means that if you’re less affluent it is harder to eat well for yourself and the environment.”

All this means that vegetarianism is something that is becoming increasingly popular in the UK for ethical but also environmental reasons. 

The fellows also researched food waste in Uganda and found there was substantially less food waste there than in the UK. One of the Boston researchers, Lillian, explained: “people typically keep nomadic livestock such as cattle, sheep, and goats which eat their waste. People in Uganda also farm, even less affluent individuals have access to land where they can grow their own fruits and vegetables. When purchasing fruits and vegetables in Uganda, they come without packaging and most people don’t own fridges, therefore the food they are consuming is healthier, homegrown fresh produce. Meat in Uganda is considered a treat and isn’t eaten often, if it is eaten, it’s locally sourced from domesticated animals.”

However, as the country develops, the issue of waste in Uganda may become more prominent. There are signs that Ugandan communities have been feeling the impacts of climate change at a local level due to the changes in seasons that have been affecting crop growth. 

The second focus for discussion was carbon emissions. The UK has an extremely high output of carbon emissions each year. Whilst carbon is not as powerful as other greenhouse gases such as methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (noX), it does last three times longer in the atmosphere, meaning it can take over 200 years to dissipate. The largest output of carbon dioxide (CO2) comes from the burning of fossil fuels. A large contributor to fossil fuels is flying. Not only do people fly as a method of travel in the UK, but large quantities of the UK’s food are flown in from all over the world as the climate in the UK doesn’t permit the growth of certain fruits and vegetables. 

Covid-19 highlighted the amount of carbon emissions being produced through people commuting to and from work. The number of people using trains has dropped by 20% since the pandemic and has stayed that way, with more people working from home. 

In Uganda, many people drive diesel cars, which contribute to greenhouse gases. Burning diesel releases more carbon than driving a petrol vehicle, and also produces more fine particulate pollution which is more damaging to human health. Traffic in the capital city of Uganda, Kampala, is particularly bad for its production of carbon emissions due to its large population. In Uganda there is no system to recycle plastic, so they burn it. 

The fellows found that Uganda is tackling the issue of carbon emissions through the process of reforestation. Bosco explained: “The Ugandan Government has partnerships with Port Loko and Farelli to plant over 100,000 eucalyptus trees in the next five years.”

Eucalyptus plants are an excellent source of charcoal for households in Uganda. Although, the planting of eucalyptus trees is a step in the right direction, it is more complex than that. Eucalyptus trees are native to Australia, meaning the transport of the trees contributes towards carbon emissions. They also only grow around three feet annually. Water Hyacinth is also in development in Uganda to produce biodiesel and biofuel. 

A key question for the fellows was: “How do we close the gap of understanding and begin to ask people to make these sacrifices in their daily lives?” Ronald suggested: “The first thing we need to do is advocate for this change through education. The system needs to change to allow people to have the opportunity to do the right thing. Uganda is the second youngest country in the world. Approaching climate change by educating students could be extremely effective.”

This is something that is already taking place in the UK. A youth led campaign called “Teach the Future” are petitioning for climate change to be taught in every aspect of secondary school subjects. 

Bryony stated: “Climate change is a complex and multi-faceted issue that requires collective efforts from individuals, governments and organisations worldwide to mitigate its impacts. It is not something that can be rectified overnight, it will take time, effort and a sense of collective hope. There must be a sense of unity, activism and togetherness. At a local level, we are asking communities to implement these changes that are crucial to making a difference by involving them in the conversation.” 

The Bolton research team and fellows are just one example of how, if we work together, we can make a difference and take the steps towards a greener planet, greener air and greener energy. 

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