COP27: Vanessa Nakate Wants African Solutions for African Problems An Interview with Climate Activist, Vanessa Nakate

The solutions to African climate problems must be tailored to our unique circumstances, Vanessa Nakate argues ahead of COP27. She says, ‘We must make sure the solutions that are being funded are the ones that work for African people.’

As the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference or ‘COP27’ approaches, 25-year-old Ugandan climate activist, Vanessa Nakate reflects on her experience at last year’s COP26. She recalls that her speech at COP26 was met with applause, but no significant action was taken post the conference. 

A UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and the author of A Bigger Picture: My Fight to Bring a New African Voice to the Climate Crisis, Nakate advocates for decolonizing climate change. She argues that African stories need to be told, and we need to listen to African communities on the ground and their needs. Nakate believes that we need to ensure that the climate change solutions funded are the ones that work for African people. Further, Western countries, being the largest historical emitters of greenhouse gases, need to lead the world in reduction of emissions, and provide funding to countries with less resources to reduce their emissions. 

In the following conversation, we spoke to Nakate about the need to include and prioritize African voices, stories and climate issues at international conferences, the responsibilities on Western countries to fund global climate change solutions, and what decolonizing climate change solutions would look like. 

ELIZABETH ABATI

At COP26, you spoke about the need for immediate and drastic action, and for governments and leaders to work towards cutting carbon emissions. What impact did this speech have? And how are you hoping to grow this impact with COP27?  

VANESSA NAKATE

I don’t think it had much impact. I remember in the room, people were applauding a lot after my speech. But, I haven’t seen any impact since then. At COP26, youth activists were accused of being too negative—dismissing the conference before it had even started. In the speech, I told leaders to ‘prove us wrong’—that we were negative because there had been 25 COPs already and still emissions continue to rise. But I said that we hoped and pleaded with leaders that their words wouldn’t be empty this time.
Unfortunately, promises have been broken since COP26. At COP26, countries agreed to come back to COP27 with new and improved targets for emissions reductions. Almost no countries have done this. At COP26, rich countries re-affirmed their commitment to providing $100 billion of climate finance a year—this promise was first made 13 years ago and has still not been met. They also agreed to start talks on addressing the loss and damage that vulnerable countries are already facing with funding—but rich countries like the US and Europe have blocked attempts to start putting a loss and damage facility into action.

ELIZABETH ABATI

This year’s COP will be held in Africa. Why is this significant? What do you think this says about the importance of African voices in climate change conversations?

VANESSA NAKATE

Africa is on the frontlines of the climate crisis, but it is not on the front pages of the world’s newspapers. It is critical that our voices are heard—because every voice has a story to tell, and every story has a solution to give. We must make sure the solutions that are being funded are the ones that work for African people. So, these stories need to keep on being told after COP27 ends and everyone goes home.

At COP26, countries agreed to come back to COP27 with new and improved targets for emissions reductions. Almost no countries have done this. 

ELIZABETH ABATI

In general, do you consider that there is sufficient coverage of African issues at international climate change conferences? Should we as Africans be prioritizing conferences organized by Africans and African institutions instead?

VANESSA NAKATE

I don’t think there is sufficient attention paid to African issues at international conferences like this. For example, countries in Africa and other parts of the global south have been trying to get loss and damage finance (money to pay for the destruction we are already facing as a result of climate change) on the agenda at COPs for years. Yet, they are still being blocked from any progress by the world’s richest countries. However, we need these conferences to be able to bring these demands—it is an unfortunate situation, but we need to shift the balance of power by getting people across the world to demand more from their governments.

ELIZABETH ABATI

There has been rising criticism of the West and its hypocrisy on climate change and carbon emission reduction goals. Do you think this criticism is valid?  

VANESSA NAKATE

Western countries are amongst the largest historical emitters of greenhouse gases. They need to lead the world in reducing their emissions. But at the same time, they need to provide funding for countries without the same resources to be able to reduce their emissions. We have not seen this yet on the scale that is necessary. It does not only need to come from governments, but also from private institutions. Africa receives just two per cent of the world’s investment in renewable energy despite having 39 per cent of the world’s capacity for renewable energy generation.

Africa is on the front lines of the climate crisis, but it is not on the front pages of the world’s newspapers. It is critical that our voices are heard. 

ELIZABETH ABATI

What would decolonizing climate change solutions look like for you?

VANESSA NAKATE

Decolonizing climate change solutions, for me, looks like listening to the communities on the ground and what they want and need. Empowering and educating girls is one of the most effective tools we have in the fight against the climate crisis, according to Project Drawdown. It makes women and girls more economically empowered, less reliant on subsistence agriculture and equipped with the tools they need to be more resilient to extreme weather. The world needs to fund solutions like these that work for communities. We cannot be the dumping ground of old, polluting technologies that the rich world doesn’t want anymore. We cannot let the oil and gas industry use Africa to squeeze out its last dirty profits before their power stations become stranded—leaving African countries to pay the debts.

Africa receives just 2 per cent of the world’s investment in renewable energy despite having 39 per cent of the world’s capacity for renewable energy generation.

ELIZABETH ABATI

You’ve spoken numerous times about the devastating impact that climate change is having across the African continent. What can we as individuals do differently, if at all?

VANESSA NAKATE

The most powerful thing we can do is to stand up and demand change. The solutions are out there, we just need the investment and the political will to enact them. Only people-power can make sure that happens. You can find a local climate movement, or organize a protest by yourself in the street or online. Or even talk to your friends and family about what is happening

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