NEW YORK (AP) – Vanessa Nakate’s climate activism over the past three years has propelled her to the global stage.
Since 2019, Nakate has been working to amplify the voices of African climate activists through a platform she founded called the Rise Up Movement, led an initiative to end deforestation of African rainforests, and launched the Vash Greens Schools Project, which aims to install solar panels in remote areas. areas of her homeland, Uganda.
These efforts prompted UNICEF to announce her as their new goodwill ambassador this week, with UNICEF Director Catherine Russell saying the appointment of Nakate to the role “will help ensure that the voices of children and young people are never cut out of the conversation.” about climate change – and always involved in decisions that affect their lives.”
Despite global recognition, Nakate says it’s not enough — not enough to save the planet or save the people in the global south who she says are suffering significantly from the effects of climate catastrophe.
“The world has for so long ignored what is happening in the south of the world,” the 25-year-old Ugandan told the Associated Press on Wednesday.
Just off a week-long trip to Turkana County, Kenya with UNICEF, Nakate saw the effects of food and water insecurity brought on by East Africa’s worst drought in four decades.
“To go 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 about it,” she said. “It is no longer talked about, but does that mean that the situation has come to an end? No. The drought situation is much worse and many people are suffering now.”
Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Authority for Development warned that higher temperatures and less-than-normal rainfall on the African continent were recorded by weather agencies, and that rain was expected to continue – indicating that countries in East Africa, as well as the Horn of Africa, could face its most severe drought in 40 years. Over the years, droughts have led to crop failures, livestock deaths and millions of cases of malnutrition.
Countries like Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya could see the current famine increase.
“When it comes to the climate crisis, it has different, terrible realities. One is that those who are most affected right now are those who are least responsible,” she said.
According to the Global Carbon Project, a team of scientists that tracks countries’ carbon dioxide emissions, Africa — which accounts for about 16% of the world’s population — is responsible for just 3.2% of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere since 1959. .
Carbon dioxide is the main cause of climate change. As a natural greenhouse gas, it traps heat in the atmosphere, causing global temperatures to rise. While the African continent makes a small contribution to global carbon dioxide emissions, more industrialized countries such as the United States, Russia and China make a larger contribution.
For activists like Nakate, tackling the climate crisis isn’t just about raising awareness or urging world leaders to make rapid policy changes to tackle the climate change that is devastating countries like Pakistan and Kenya — it also requires strengthening the voices of non-Western climate activists, which she says are largely ignored in international talks on climate change.
Looking ahead to COP27 – the United Nations’ annual climate summit – to be held in Egypt in November, Nakate said she notices a significant shortcoming during these global discussions: the lack of real human experience.
“I think what’s really missing from these conversations is the human face of the climate crisis and I think it’s really the human face that tells the story telling the experiences of what communities are going through,” she said. “It’s what also tells the solutions communities need, because there’s often a discrepancy between what’s being discussed and between what communities are saying.”
For Nakate, that is a failure of global leadership. She believes that leaders, especially Western leaders, would take immediate action if they understood and see the hardships people have experienced as a result of the climate crisis.
Ultimately, she said, the responsibility and burden of tackling climate change and ensuring that the numerous, nameless faces of the climate crisis are not ignored must rest on world leaders — not just the youth who have built a global movement.
“The question should be: what should the leaders do? What should governments do? Because I’ve been doing activism all this time, I realized that the young people have done everything,” Nakate said.
Still, she tries to find hope in the situation.
“In all of this, you try to find hope, because it’s in that hope that you find the strength to keep saying we want this or we don’t want this,” she said.