World needs US to ‘be the climate leader’, Ugandan activist

World needs US to ‘be the climate leader’, Ugandan activist


Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate on Thursday urged US President Joe Biden to help those hardest hit by the ravages of global warming, a day ahead of his arrival for the UN climate talks in Egypt.

Nakate, a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, urged Biden to listen to climate science and those who are “on the front lines of this crisis.”

She also called for phasing out fossil fuels and funding to help vulnerable countries deal with accelerating climate impacts.

“The world needs the United States as a climate leader in our fight for climate justice,” the 25-year-old told AFP in an interview at the COP27 climate conference in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

“The message is that President Biden stands by the people of the planet and the generations to come.”

Inspired by Swede Greta Thunberg, Nakate — who founded the Rise Up Climate Movement in her native Uganda — has become a prominent voice among global youth fighting for climate change and justice.

Though unlikely to meet the US President in person during his fleeting trip to the two-week climate talks, Nakate urged Biden to muster the “political will” to support communities most vulnerable to the snowball effects of a warming world are affected.

This year alone, the world has seen a spate of extreme heat waves and crop-wrecking droughts, while Pakistan and Nigeria have been hit by catastrophic floods.

Flooding has also hit Nakate’s own region in Uganda, she said.

“When you look at all of these crises that are happening around you in your community right now, you have no choice but to come here and believe that another world is not only necessary, but possible,” she said.

– ‘Can’t eat coal’ –

Thunberg has snubbed the UN talks in Egypt – dubbed the “Africa COP” – over concerns about restrictions on activists.

But Nakate said she was compelled to attend because of the growing harm people in the Global South are suffering, adding that activists used social media and press interviews to keep up the pressure on leaders.

She said it was more important than ever to “hold our leaders accountable and remind them we cannot eat coal, drink oil and breathe gas”.

In a world gripped by energy, food and inflation crises – fueled by climate impacts, the war in Ukraine and the pandemic – the challenges of rising prices are too often seen only through the eyes of wealthier nations, Nakate said.

“In countries like Uganda, many people are affected and suffering because fuel prices are increasing, transportation is increasing and food prices are also increasing,” she said, adding that many people “just don’t know how to keep up with it”.

She called on the international community to increase investments to tackle energy poverty in Africa and support the transition to renewable energy.

“If there is no climate finance to support this transition, many of our countries will be pressured to accept money from fossil fuel companies so they can lift their communities out of fuel poverty,” she said.

In her role for UNICEF, Nakate has recently visited communities affected by the devastating drought in the Horn of Africa, where millions, including children, are at risk of starvation.

These tragedies can reverberate through a person’s life for many years, even generations, Nakate said.

However, she noted that Biden and the other world leaders who traveled to Egypt this week should understand that their positive actions also have the potential to echo into the future.

“I’ve heard of what’s called the butterfly effect, where just one thing that might seem like a small action can impact so many people’s lives,” she said, adding that leaders have choices about whether their impact is positive or not Negative.

“If it’s going to be positive, then action now will benefit not just our generation but generations to come,” she said.

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