They told me to get married, shun 'climate justice'

Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate walks along the shore of Lake Victoria on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda, December 6, 2021. [AP photo]

Vanessa Nakate, is a self-taught climate justice activist and author of The Bigger Picture. At 25, the Ugandan says I am “finding myself in places where society doesn’t expect me to be.”

She is this year’s Global Goals Campaign Award winner by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers for her efforts in climate change.

Her work she says, is intersectional as “she knows that educating girls, alleviating poverty and addressing gender discrimination are critical to achieving a more sustainable future.”

Nakate admits that while in school “I really didn’t understand how much it was affecting people in reality,” but issues got clearer in 2018 while researching on climate change evident in floods, landslides and drought in Uganda.

Malala Yousufzai, the youngest Nobel Peace Laurette in announcing Nakate the winner, described her as “equipped with a discerning mind, passionate heart and tremendous tenacity, she is helping lead the fight for a greener and fair future.”

Global emissions

Inspired by Greta Thunberg, a climate activist from Sweden, Nakate started climate strikes in Uganda, but many advised her against climate strikes and accused her of “exaggerating the crisis.”

They told me “I should get married instead of standing in the streets pretending I am doing activism yet I am looking for a man to notice me,” recalls Nakate, currently installing solar panels and eco-friendly stoves in Uganda through her Vash Green schools project now in over 30 schools.

Women and children are disproportionately impacted by climate change, especially in Africa which contributes less than four per cent of the global emissions.

Vanessa Nakate, right, with Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai.

For instance, water scarcity and malnutrition and other vagaries of the ongoing drought in the horn of Africa, threaten the lives of millions who have suffered the longest drought in 40 years, says the UN.

“It is one of the horrible realities of the climate crisis,” she says, "to know those least responsible are suffering the most.”  

The continued use of fossil fuels threatens countries with fossil fuel infrastructure, yet only the West benefits, and not the victims of extreme poverty in those countries.

She says the West can’t be trusted “when they say they are bringing prosperity to Africa” and thus leaders should opt for alternatives like renewable energy which is more sustainable and “there has been a demand for climate finance to help African nations transition to renewable energy.”

Debt justice and grants are needed more than loans to manage crises as was the case in Mozambique and she laments that “when climate finance comes through loans, it comes to add on already existing loans.”

She reckons African leaders should use this year’s CoP27 Summit in Egypt to push for specific climate demands and support activists calling for “debt justice is climate justice.” 

Other Goalkeeper awardees included Radhika Batra, co-founder of Every Infant Matters, a last-mile health solutions provider to disadvantaged children in India (Progress Award), Zahra Joya, an Afghan journalist who self-funded a women online news agency (Changemaker Award), and Ursula von der Leyen, President, European Commission (Global Goalkeeper Award).

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