Uganda’s prominent young climate activist Vanessa Nakate is in Glasgow, where she is bringing an African voice to the UN Climate Change Conference (Cop26).
The head of Scotland’s devolved government, Nicola Sturgeon, admitted to feeling “really uncomfortable” after a conversation with Nakate and Sweden’s Greta Thunberg, in which they put to her their criticisms of the way the world’s governments have been handling climate change.
Nakate has been taking the message to world leaders that young people feel betrayed by governments’ failure to cut carbon emissions and pressing for urgent action.
In open letter to world leaders also signed by Dominika Lasota from Poland and Mitzi Tan from the Philippines, Nakate and Thunberg have called upon governments to “face up to the climate emergency” by:
- keeping to the Paris Climate Agreement target of holding global temperature rise to1.5°C
- Stop investing in fossil fuels
- Creative carbon accounting is ending
- Delivering the $100bn promised the most vulnerable nations
- Enacting climate policies to protect workers.
Uganda’s first Fridays for Future striker
Since January 2019, Nakate has been a prominent climate activist. She was a recent graduate in marketing and business administration from Makerere University Business School Kampala, who was concerned about environmental issues.
She was inspired by Thunberg’s example in Sweden to begin a solitary climate protest outside the Ugandan parliament, also targeting other parts of the Ugandan capital from malls to petrol stations.
“After my school last year, there is a period before graduation. I wanted to do something that could cause change to the lives of the people in my community and my country, therefore I started carrying out research about the main problems that are faced by the people in my country…” she told Democracy Now’s Amy GoodmanCop25 Madrid.
“So when I realised that [climate change]It was such a serious threat, I discovered ways to make it more public in my country. And that’s how I found out about the Fridays for Future strikes. And I decided to start the climate strikes.”
At first, the shy young woman received a lot from passers-by. But she soon became a social media celebrity. After 21 weeks of her strike, she told Uganda’s The Observer that she would carry on her protest until “until the leaders react and the president declares a climate emergency.”
Later that year, she started a second strike to defend the Congo rain forests. She was motivated to do so after an audience member at a talk she had given inquired why Africans were concerned about Amazon rainforest destruction but not about similar destruction in the Amazon. Congo basin.
“The more I discovered what was happening to the Congo Basin, the more upset and angry I became,” she wrote recently in Time magazine. “If we couldn’t defend the largest forest in Africa, I thought, then how would we protect the smaller forests, including those in Uganda?”
She also co-founded the Youth for Future, Rise Up and Youth for Future movements to support African climate activists. In December 2019, she spoke at Cop25 in Madrid.
Cropped out from photos
She was controversially cropped from a photo she took with four European climate activists in January 2020 while lobbying for the World Economic Forum at Davos.
“It was clearly the picture I’d been in, since you could make out the edge of my coat on the far left of the frame. But I was invisible. I’d been cropped out,” she writes in her book The Bigger Picture: My Fight to Bring a New African Voice to the Climate Crisis, “… of the five women who had posed for that photo, I was the only one who wasn’t from Europe and the only one who wasn’t Black. They hadn’t just cropped me out, I realized. They’d cropped out the whole continent.”
She had also been left out of the Associated Press’s report on the press conference the group had given.
“Does that mean I have no value as an African activist or the people from Africa have no value at all?” she asked in a video she posted that evening. “We don’t deserve this. Africa is the least emitter of carbons but we are the most affected by the climate crisis.”
“This is the first time in my life that I understood the definition of the word racism.”
Thunberg slammed the Associated Press for its treatment of Nakate and at Cop26 similarly condemned the UK media for “erasing” Nakate from photos of their meeting with Sturgeon in Glasgow.
Social justice and women’s empowerment
Nakate is a Christian who has been raised to faith and is motivated by a deep sense for social justice in her climate action.
“If our farms are destroyed by floods, if the farms are destroyed by droughts and crop production is less, that means that the price of food is going to go high. So it will only be the most privileged who will be able to buy food,” she told Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman.
In her bookNakate laments the loss of power of women and stresses the importance of education in the fight against climate change.
“I think of it like this,” she says, “girls and women are more than half the world’s population. If we want to solve the climate crisis, women must be in the rooms where decisions about climate change are made. This is almost always the case. Educating girls brings them into those rooms, and expands the number and approaches of possible decision-makers and solutions.”