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Climate Risks to Conservation in Uganda

Analyses of select landscapes describe the status and risks for biodiversity and livelihoods in targeted areas based on climate change projections.
Daniël  Brink


This report provides information on the risks of climate change to biodiversity conservation in Uganda. The Climate Change Adaptation, Thought Leadership Assessment (ATLAS) project worked with USAID’s Bureau for Africa and the USAID/Uganda mission to assess the vulnerability of biodiversity in a set of protected areas and their surrounding landscapes.

This assessment*, based on selected landscapes in Uganda, analyzes biodiversity resources and livelihoods dependent on biodiversity, as well as the ecosystem services on which they both rely. Based on available climate projections for each of five landscapes, the study outlines potential climate impacts and adaptive responses to protect biodiversity and related livelihoods.

The aim of the assessment was to create landscape analyses describing the status and risks for biodiversity and livelihoods in targeted areas based on climate change projections, and use these analyses to support USAID/Uganda decision making on integrating biodiversity and climate change programming.

*Download the full assessment from the right-hand column.

Methods and Tools

This assessment was completed by using existing climate information, including both historical climate trends and future climate projections, to extract climate risks and make judgments about the impacts that those risks will have on biodiversity and livelihoods in select landscapes. Based on identified climate impacts, the assessment suggests a set of adaptation responses to reduce them. The assessment also includes a set of ratings for each landscape, providing expert judgment about the efficacy of taking action to address climate change in each landscape. These ratings are inherently qualitative but provide a rational basis for the recommendations provided at the end of the report.

Key findings

Based on the landscape analyses, the study team identified the key findings below, which in turn form the basis for the assessment recommendations.

  1. Climate change is one of many stressors, often not the most immediate, affecting biodiversity in Uganda.
    • Non-climate stressors include: rapid population growth; human-caused fire; oil exploration, drilling and other energy development; industrialization, urbanization and infrastructure development; agricultural encroachment and demand for productive land; charcoal making/fuelwood demand; and illegal and unsustainable legal harvesting of resources, such as timber, non-timber forest products, water and wildlife (poaching for food).
  2. It is very likely that non-climate stressors such as those mentioned under #1 are themselves being exacerbated by climate factors, therefore indirectly creating risks to biodiversity.
    • Trends including urbanization, agricultural expansion into fragile areas (e.g., protected areas) and wildlife poaching may in part be reactions to climate impacts to livelihoods. However, the data available to make these causal links are extremely limited.
  3. Based on trend data (notably higher temperatures, more erratic rainfall and more intense rainfall events), climate change impacts on biodiversity, livelihoods and ecosystem services appear to be significant.
    • These include: decreased quality of tourism experience and revenue; fewer Protected Area (PA) resources for community use; increased human-wildlife conflict (HWC); increased disease transmission between wildlife and livestock and wildlife and people; reduced livelihood options, including livelihoods that rely on tourism, fishing and plant collection; and reduced water quality and quantity.
  4. Trends of higher temperatures, more erratic rainfall and increased frequency of extreme rainfall events are the primary climate change stressors throughout the study area; by their nature these stressors pose a significant climate threat to biodiversity.
    • These current trends in climate variability are fairly pronounced and represent a substantial challenge to biodiversity and underlying ecosystems throughout the study area.
  5. The most pronounced indirect climate impacts on biodiversity include increased intensity and spread of fires. These fires result in changes in plant and animal species composition, distribution movements and abundance, and in increased spread of invasive species.

  6. Fire-induced changes in plant and animal species composition, distribution movements and abundance and increased spread of invasive species affect habitat quality of Uganda’s PAs.
    • They cause drying and shrinking of wetlands and open water bodies, affecting aquatic life and wildlife that rely on aquatic resources; increase disease incidence in wildlife; and increase risks from flood events.
  7. Significant gaps in climate change knowledge exist. The trend data available are based on a limited number of years and this short time period makes it difficult to distinguish the climate change signal from typical interannual and decadal variability.
    • Overall, in Uganda, analysis of the potential impact of climate change on biodiversity suffers from a pervasive lack of long-term, robust meteorological record and climate data to determine changes at varying temporal and spatial scales.
  8. Knowledge gaps also exist regarding effective adaptation responses to climate change impacts on biodiversity.

  9. Climate variability and change may halt or reverse the sustainability of traditional conservation actions unless adequately considered.
    • While stakeholders seem to place greater emphasis on the role of non-climate stressors in understanding vulnerability, it is clear that without considering climate risks, the potential success of traditional conservation activities may be compromised
  10. Climate change risks and impacts are already evident and significant and should be prioritized in the drier, savanna landscapes (the two dry landscapes in the cattle corridor, KVNP, Pian Upe, Bisina Opeta and Lake Mburo National Park-Lake Nakivale Ramsar Site (LMNP-LNRS).


The available evidence base identifying climate stressors and related potential climate impacts and capacity for adaptation response must be considered when designing and implementing climate-resilient biodiversity conservation and related livelihood security interventions in biodiversity conservation programming. Adaptation interventions to help the country’s PAs address existing risks to both biodiversity and livelihoods are prioritized on page 10 of the assessment. While these recommendations are based on a thorough desktop analysis and limited complementary field consultations, they could be strengthened by a more grounded assessment in each landscape.

Recommendations are divided into immediate, medium term and longer term depending on the urgency of undertaking action (i.e., designing and implementing interventions), as judged by the study team, based on identified climate risk (see page 10 of the assessment for a summary of reccomendations for each landscape):

  • Immediate recommendations are immediate needs for high-risk landscapes.
  • Medium-term recommendations are those that offer high potential for buffering these landscapes from risks posed by climate changes that are judged likely but not yet at a critical point.
  • Longer-term recommendations focus on the lower-risk landscapes, with an eye toward monitoring climate risks and providing opportunities to intervene in an orderly manner.

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