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4th Jul 2022

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Ugandan activist Hilda Nakabuye warns over climate inaction

  • Hilda Flavia Nakabuye is the founder of Uganda's Fridays for Future movement (Photo: Fridays for Future)
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When Hilda Flavia Nakabuye was a little girl, her family and other farming communities earned their living through agriculture in Masaka, southern Uganda.

Eventually, the rainy seasons became unpredictable, and heatwaves became more extreme and frequent, destroying crop fields and drying up streams and other water resources. The poor harvests at her family's farmland made it very difficult for her parents to earn enough money to pay her tuition fees.

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  • Activists from Fridays for Future Uganda strike to demand climate justice (Photo: Fridays for Future)

After climate change forced her to miss school entirely for several months, her family decided to sell the farm and move to the capital, Kampala, where Nakabuye founded Uganda's Fridays for Future movement early in 2019.

She was motivated by images of Greta Thunberg, protesting outside the Swedish parliament in 2018, into organising her own solo Uganda school strikes to raise awareness over climate change.

But the 24-year old activist says her demands were only met with inaction.

"The government is hearing us, but it is not listening to us," she told EUobserver in an interview. She was referring to how school strikes attracted attention — and repression by the police — but fell short of driving meaningful changes.

In 2019, Uganda's Fridays for Future, which now has over 53,000 young members, submitted a list of demands to the government, calling on leaders to act fast to seek unprecedented global action towards the climate breakdown.

"Nothing is being done," she said, referring to how her organisation's demands and criticisms have just been ignored so far.

However, the last few years have marked the rise of climate change activism in Africa, gaining momentum across the continent.

With the increasing participation and engagement of young people in protests, Uganda's Fridays for Future movement inspired similar movements in other countries, including Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Angola, Nakabuye says.

Her main aim is to raise awareness about climate change among local communities. But she is also demanding climate action from leaders and the international community.

Colonial history

Climate change is rooted in the exploitation of the planet's resources. But the role of history and colonialism in the climate crisis is currently at the heart of the debate because it has triggered a double injustice: exacerbating social inequalities — while disproportionately harming those communities that contribute least to climate change.

Developed countries, says Nakabuye, continue to burn fossil fuels while Africa suffers the worst effects of climate change.

The G20, which includes Australia, Germany, Brazil, China, India and the United States, accounts for 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, while the African continent is responsible for less than three percent of the world's emissions. The unfairness is self-evident.

Yet many in developing countries continue to believe that economic growth goes hand-in-hand with fossil-fuel consumption. And, as a result, local authorities in Africa continue to allow fossil-fuel companies to exploit the continent's natural resources, threatening ecosystems and water sources for millions of people, says Nakabuye.

But she is adamant that new oil and gas projects are simply a "ticket to hell" and a "death penalty" for African countries. "We cannot 'develop' on a dead planet,' she points out, starkly.

Instead, to ensure a sustainable future, investments should go into renewables and sustainable agriculture. Nakabuye also wants fossil-fuel companies to stop their polluting extraction and production activities in Africa.

The Ugandan activist, who has attended several UN climate talks herself, says action taken so far by politicians are a huge disappointment and she is not optimistic about outcomes at the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Egypt (COP27) in November.

These annual meetings, where global leaders make pledges about their efforts to slow down climate change, are full of lobbyists and business interests and are just a "meet and greet" exercise, she says.

This has become painfully clear for African nations because they have seen nothing but broken promises following previous UN climate talks.

Until now, rich nations have failed to fulfil the long-standing pledge to provide $100bn per year to emerging economies to address climate change impact and mitigation.

In the build-up to COP27, developing countries are expected to push rich governments to scale up their financial support from 2025 in a bid to limit global temperatures to 1.5 degrees — the 2015 Paris Agreement target. But Africa has already warmed by more than one degree Celsius since 1900, according to the United Nations.

Agriculture is the backbone of Africa's economy, employing 60 percent of its population, and high temperatures could have devastating effects on crop production and food security.

Additionally, the adverse effects of climate change are also hitting harder on women and girls, who bear the biggest burden, especially in situations of poverty, says Nakabuye.

The much-needed change towards a sustainable relationship with nature will not come from politicians but from ordinary people, she says, because "I know the power of the people can bring the difference that is needed."

This article first appeared in EUobserver's magazine, War, Peace and the Green Economy, which you can now read in full online.

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