Vanessa Nakate: The human face of climate change Western leaders are missing

Vanessa Nakate’s climate activism over the past three years has propelled her onto the world stage.

Since 2019, Nakate has worked to amplify the voice of African climate activists through a platform she created called the Rise Up Movement, led an initiative to stop the deforestation of African rainforests, and started the project Vash Greens Schools, which aims to install solar panels in remote areas. regions of his home country, Uganda.

These efforts led Unicef ​​(United Nations Children’s Fund) to announce her as their new Goodwill Ambassador on September 15.

UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said Nakate’s appointment to the post “will help ensure that the voices of children and young people are never left out of the conversation on climate change – and always included in decisions that affect their lives.

Despite global recognition, Nakate says it’s not enough – not enough to save the planet or to save people in the global south who are suffering greatly from the effects of climate disasters.

“For so long, the world has ignored what is happening in the southern hemisphere,” said the 25-year-old from Uganda.

Fresh off a week-long trip to Turkana County, Kenya, with Unicef, Nakate witnessed the effects of food and water insecurity caused by the worst drought in South Africa. the East for four decades.

“Going back to the Horn of Africa – where I was in Turkana – there was a time when people talked about it, but now people have forgotten,” she says.

“We don’t talk about it anymore, but does that mean the situation is over? No. The drought situation is much worse and a lot of people are suffering right now.”

Nakate says non-Western voices tend to be ignored in global conversations about the climate crisis. —Reuters

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development warned that higher temperatures and below normal rainfall have been recorded across the African continent by meteorological agencies, and that rains are still expected to fail – indicating that countries East Africa, as well as the Horn of Africa, could face the worst drought in 40 years.

Over the years, droughts have led to crop failures, livestock deaths and millions of cases of malnutrition. Countries like Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia could see current famine conditions intensify.

“When it comes to the climate crisis, it has different and horrifying realities. One of them is that those who are most affected right now are the least responsible,” Nakate says.

According to the Global Carbon Project, a team of scientists who monitor countries’ carbon dioxide emissions, Africa – which accounts for around 16% of the world’s population – is only responsible for 3.2% of the carbon dioxide released in the atmosphere since 1959. (Carbon dioxide is the main contributor to climate change. As a greenhouse gas, it traps heat in the atmosphere, which in turn causes global temperatures to rise. )

While the African continent is a minor contributor to global carbon dioxide emissions, more industrialized countries such as China, Russia and the United States are much larger contributors of CO2 to the atmosphere.

For activists like Nakate, tackling the climate crisis is not just about raising awareness or urging world leaders to make rapid changes to policies to tackle the climate change that is devastating countries like Kenya and Pakistan – it also requires amplifying the voices of non-Western climate activists, who are largely ignored in international conversations on climate change, she says.

Looking ahead to COP27 – the annual UN climate summit, Conference of the Parties – to be held in Egypt in November, Nakate says she sees a significant deficit in these global discussions: the lack of real human experience.

“I think what’s really missing in these conversations is the human face of the climate crisis, and I think it’s really the human face that tells the story, that tells the experiences of what communities are going through. “, she says.

“It’s also what points to the solutions that communities need, because there’s often a disconnect between what’s being discussed and what communities are saying.”

For Nakate, it is a failure of global leadership. She thinks leaders, especially Western leaders, would take immediate action if they understood and saw the hardships people are going through due to the climate crisis.

Ultimately, she said, the responsibility and burden of tackling climate change and ensuring that the many faceless faces of the climate crisis are not ignored must rest with world leaders – and not just to young people who have built a global movement.

“The question should be, what should leaders do? What should governments do? Because all the time I’ve been doing activism, I’ve realized that young people do everything,” Nakate says.

Still, she tries to look for hope in the situation.

“In all of this you try to look for hope because it’s in that hope that you find the strength to keep saying we want this or we don’t want that,” she says. – PA

Teresa H. Sadler