‘We want justice’ on climate, says Vanessa Nakate - GulfToday

‘We want justice’ on climate, says Vanessa Nakate

Vanessa Nakate

Vanessa Nakate

Cara Anna, Associated Press

The capital of Uganda coughs itself awake on weekdays under a soft blanket of smog. Kampala’s hills come into sharper focus as the morning rush of minibuses and motorbikes fades. It is this East African city that one of the world’s most well-known climate activists, Vanessa Nakate, calls home.

The 25-year-old’s rise in profile has been quick. Not even three years have passed since she set out with relatives in Kampala to stage her first, modest protest over how the world is treating its only planet.

In an interview this week with The Associated Press - which last year drew international attention and Nakate’s dismay by cropping her from a photo - she reflected on the whirlwind. She spoke of her disappointment in the outcome of the U.N. climate talks in Scotland and what she and other young activists plan for the year to come.

“We expected the leaders to rise up for the people, to rise up for the planet” at the talks known as COP26, she said. Instead, the world could be on a pathway to warm 2.4 degrees Celsius (4.3 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial times.

That’s well above the goal of limiting warming to 1.5C - and would be “a death sentence for so many communities on the front lines of the climate crisis,” Nakate said.

Globally, the signs are dire. The Arctic is warming three times faster than the rest of the planet. The dramatic drop in carbon dioxide emissions from COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns has almost disappeared. This year, forests burned in Siberia’s weakening permafrost, while record-shattering heatwaves in Canada and the U.S. Pacific Northwest and deadly flooding in Europe brought the climate threat home to some who once thought they could outspend it.

But many of the most-affected communities are in Africa, whose 1.3 billion people contribute the least to global emissions, less than 4%, but stand to suffer from it most.

That suffering, in some cases, has already begun: Deadly drought fells wildlife and livestock in parts of East Africa, water scarcity hits areas in West and Southern Africa, and hunger affects many millions of people, from Madagascar to Somalia, as a result.

And yet the $100 billion in financing per year promised by richer nations to help developing countries deal with the coming catastrophe has not appeared.

“We cannot to adapt to starvation,” Nakate said, her voice soft but firm as the introvert in her gives way to the convictions that have brought her this far. “We cannot adapt to extinction, we cannot adapt to lost cultures, lost traditions, to lost histories, and the climate crisis is taking all of these things away.”

The next big climate conference will be in Africa, in Egypt, a chance for the spotlight to fall squarely on the continent.

It will be a test for activists and negotiators from Africa’s 54 countries who have long jostled for space at global climate events.

“Many times, activists in Africa have been called missing voices. But we are not missing,” Nakate said. “We are present, we are available, we are just unheard.”

Specifically, Nakate said, drastic action is needed by the leaders in government and business that continue to fund the extraction of fossil fuels, like coal and oil.

She chose not to call out anyone by name, but when asked whether Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, in power since 1986, had replied to a letter she wrote about a controversial oil pipeline project to ship crude from Uganda to neighboring Tanzania, she said no.

In fact, the 77-year-old leader has never been in contact with Nakate, who became one of the world’s most well-known Ugandans not long after graduating from university with a business degree and becoming inspired by climate activism.

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