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145: Africa: A View From The Frontlines of Climate Justice and Gender Equality with Vanessa Nakate

For years in the Global North, our dialogue around the climate crisis focused on the idea that it was a looming disaster, something that would happen in the future if we did not take immediate action. The recent years of extreme weather events where we saw flooding in Germany and London and heat waves and storms across Europe and the United States, brought the reality home that climate change was happening NOW.

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About this episode

For those living in Africa and the Global South, this has been a reality for decades. While the devastation, droughts, famines, wars over resources and refugee crises that climate change has caused might not make the headlines in the Global North the way Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has, the impacts on these frontline communities are nonetheless devastating.

Which is why this week we invited one of the incredible female voices from the frontline of the climate crisis in Uganda, Vanessa Nakate, climate activist and founder of the Rise Up Movement, onto the O+O podcast so our listeners could hear her perspective and action points first hand.

In this intimate, in-depth interview with Christiana, Vanessa shares her journey from Ugandan schoolgirl to world-renowned climate activist. She talks about her passion for gender equality and why she believes it is key to solving the climate crisis, and why loss and damage must stay on the agenda for COP27, touted by many as The African COP.

In this interview Vanessa gives a clear call to action to any listeners who want to help African activists get their voices heard during COP27. Vanessa asks that businesses, organisations and individuals consider supporting African activists either through providing accreditation for COP27 or through funding. 

If you can help please reach out via social media to Vanessa directly or via the Rise Up Movement’s website.

And stick around until the end of the episode to hear the soul-stirring Ugandan musical artist Afrie perform her single, “Let Her Know” (Instagram | YouTube | Website | YouTube)

Thanks so much to Airaphon for all the support with producing this episode. Enjoy the show! 

Mentioned links from the episode:


Full Transcript

Tom: [00:00:12] Hello and welcome to Outrage + Optimism! I'm Tom Rivett-Carnac.

Christiana: [00:00:15] I'm Christiana Figueres.

Paul: [00:00:16] And I'm Paul Dickinson.

Tom: [00:00:18] This week we talk about the wider geopolitical implications of the Russia-Ukraine crisis and what it is doing to climate politics. We speak to climate activist Vanessa Nakate and we have music from Afrie. Thanks for being here. So in the last couple of weeks, we have been talking extensively about the deeply concerning events unfolding in Ukraine as a result of Russian aggression. And our minds are very much there with Ukrainian people and with the broader implications still. But this week we're going to take a slightly different lens to the issue. All of us listeners will know that all Paul, Christiana and I all have day jobs where we do various things to try to move forward the world to get to deeper ambition on climate. And as a result of my job, I was spending a lot of time this week talking to leaders in places like Mexico and Brazil and China and India and Indonesia, countries that absolutely have to step up with more climate ambition, if we're going to close the gap to 1.5 and remember that the world is on the hook to do that this year in Egypt. But I kept hearing the same really concerning thing. They all said, Look, the nationally determined commitment to step up is not just about mitigation, it's also about adaptation and finance. And the developed world was not properly delivering on the finance promise before the Ukraine crisis, and it definitely is not delivering on it now that all the geopolitical attention, all the finance is rightly directed towards dealing with that challenge. But as a result, representatives in those countries are saying there is no way that we are going to step up and go deeper in our commitments while this situation is unfolding. So it's interesting to think about how what is happening there is cascading all around the world. So that's the set up for this week. I'd love to invite you both to come in with some comments. Load More

Paul: [00:02:16] I want to respond by kind of setting the scene a bit. I mean, the theme that you kind of brought there was the conflict in Ukraine is a kind of distraction, which is making our kind of prioritization worse. And it's kind of quite a negative outlook. And I totally understand where you're coming from. I still also hold in my own heart, for want of a better word, quite a belief in an opportunity that this moment with the Ukraine invasion, Putin's invasion, if you want to call it that, is an opportunity for us to learn and to kind of grow as societies. And, you know, I've been very frightened, to be honest with you, that since the Berlin Wall fell, we've just been doing kind of commerce and kind of growth and kind of sort of untrammeled capitalism and economic commentators comment on GDP. And, you know, the sort of super rich seem to be kind of farming the super poor. And it's not it's not good. Right. And I think we might have re-established some firm principles here. I mean, the ones that spring to my mind, I have no particular affection for the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but he got in a lot of trouble for having kind of parties during COVID when people were being separated from their loved ones dying in hospital beds. That's a tragedy and that's wrong. But he's not invading Belgium. You know, he's not blowing up apartment blocks there. There are moments like now when I think we can really start to appreciate that there are huge benefits in the kind of open societies that we live in, and there are responsibilities that come with that. And we talked before about energy efficiency, we'll talk about that more in renewable energy. But I just want to point out that I think that we've got an absolute truth, an absolute moment here where we can draw. And to your point, I was actually going to respond to you. Believe it or not, I can connect these two. Right.

Christiana: [00:04:16] Thank you, Paul. Do take us there.

Paul: [00:04:19] But before that, I'm going to read some poems I wrote when I was. No, seriously, the connection is that we need to have a grown up debate about the fact that that there are, we're doing maybe not such a terrible job, at least in setting targets and planning around getting to net zero in the industrialized world. But we have to recognize that there's a funding gap in the less industrialized world and we need to step up and match that. But I think at this moment of ethical clarity, we may stand a better chance of doing that.

Christiana: [00:04:54] So, you know, the two of you give me such a hard time constantly for being a multitasker. Now, I would like to say I think multitasking has many benefits, and you don't want to do it all the time. Women tend to do more of it than men. But this is the moment for multitasking on a global scale. And there's no way that we can get around it without that, because a number one, the absolute idiocy of continuing to import oil and gas from Russia when we know that that is their lifeline, has got to stop. And I am so interested that the IEA, the International Energy Agency, put out an analysis that basically follows your storyline, Paul. They give a ten point action plan for how the EU can get off their imports of Russian oil. In fact, they say that the EU could actually quite simply slash at least one third of the imports by sourcing elsewhere other than Russia in increasing renewable energy investment and certainly doing all of the energy efficiency. Furthermore, there is further analysis that says that the industrialized world could reduce daily its oil demand within four months, which is almost the equivalent of the 3 million barrels a day which the industrialized world would lose from Russia. So to my multitasking we have got and those this is the conversation we had last week. We have got to get off our addiction, certainly of Russian oil and gas, but off of oil and gas in general. Now, that's what we do with one part of our brain. The other part of our brain is that all of that we do to get off oil and gas will help us on climate. And it is not enough. We have to be able to say yes, these are actually unavoidable measures at this point, unavoidable measures that we have to take. But to Tom's point, in addition to that, we have to accelerate the support for developing countries, because they have been hit over and over again, starting with climate change, but not stopping there, by Covid, by the oil and gas crisis, by the container crisis, on and on again. So we have to be able to multitask on this. And it is not that difficult to do it. It is not impossible. It is absolutely necessary now. And without that, COP will again be an insufficient step toward what is going to be the stocktake that will occur next year at COP 28. The reason why that date has to really loom very, very clearly in front of us is because we know and I feel like such a broken record, we know we have to cut emissions by half by 2030, but that doesn't mean waiting until 2029 to cut emissions. That means and we know this also from the IPCC, that means cutting now. It means frontloading the efforts now, because every single tonne that goes into the air counts, and it counts more today than it does tomorrow and certainly more than the day after tomorrow. So it is what we do in the first part of this decade that is actually going to determine whether substantially we will be able to cut our emissions by 2030 or not.

Tom: [00:08:47] So I completely hear you on the case for this. And the reason that we now need to do multitasking, which interestingly is another argument for having more women in positions of authority, which, of course, on this podcast we're fundamentally supporting because men are not so good at multitasking, and that's now clearly needed. But I also worry that, even though the case is clear, we're not doing it right. I mean, you know better than anyone when we came together in Paris. Countries that are traditionally regarded as emerging economies or developing countries committed for the first time to also reducing their emissions. And the deal was that there would be a fair amount of finance on the table to support them in doing that. But we've consistently failed to deliver the famous 100 billion just this week.

Christiana: [00:09:28] Which is the tail that wags the dog.

Tom: [00:09:29] Which is the tail that wags the dog. But it's important, right? It's important emotionally and practically. There was a $1.5 trillion spending bill passed in the Congress last week. It included 1 billion in climate support. That's less than half of what the White House asked for and well short of the 11.4 billion that President Biden promised by 2024. Rachel Kyte, friend of ours from the Fletcher School at Tufts, called it thin climate gruel. You know, I mean, are we actually at a point where the developed world was beginning to fail on its side of the bargain out of Paris and the Russia-Ukraine conflict that diverts attention further is is has the potential to strain that to breaking point where all of the countries I talked about earlier are now, you know, smart analysts that are trying to look at possibilities here. They basically say the window is really closing now for them to step up further. And that's on us, right? That's because the developed world that created this problem haven't come through with our side of the bargain. Do you see it like that?

Christiana: [00:10:26] Yes, absolutely. But when you say the Russian crisis is a distraction, you know, let's let's define distraction. What it is actually doing is, it is strengthening the immediate acute short term, let's deal with the fire that is at our doorstep, not the forest fire that is surrounding us. And that's the issue. Right. As long as we're only able to focus on what is immediately in front of us and at the expense of not turning our attention, as well as not instead of as well toward the medium and long term, that's where we fall severely short. That's the absence of multitasking.

Paul: [00:11:13] Multitasking is a great way of looking at it. Christiana, you're always very good with these metaphors. I think I would use a slightly different phrase, which is holistic consideration. If you think back to this extraordinary comment by Chancellor Scholz of Germany of 100 billion for defense, you know, there's 100 billion just suddenly appears because, you know, when frankly, probably weapons are being shown to be kind of less and less effective. When you look at the Ukrainian resistance, the Russians, what we're not doing is seeing our own defense. And I'm going to talk here about ecological defense, ecological security, our requirement for the ecosystem that protects us. Remember, we're on Spaceship Earth as Buckminster Fuller called it, and we know we have to protect the life support system or else the spaceship doesn't work and the astronauts die. And that's us. All of us. Right? So we have to think holistically about the fact that the NDCs of Brazil and Mexico and India and all the rest of it are actually part of our life support system. We can't be pointing fingers. That's the absolute key here. So one of the reasons why there was thin climate gruel and what turn of phrase Rachel Kyte has, what a superstar. But the reason why that happens in the US is because the political process doesn't have the people thinking about their collective defense through the, you know, the development and protection of people in the South. We're going to talk later to Vanessa Nakate and her experience in Uganda. And, you know, we all know about these frontline countries. Bangladesh, I mean, practically everywhere is a frontline country. Now, we you know, this is not this is this is it's multitasking in your word. For me, it's holistic thinking and just actually recognizing that, you know, we learnt it in COVID. It was the big lesson. Nobody's safe until everyone is safe.

Tom: [00:13:01] That is exactly the philosophy that has to permeate all levels of society. And we kind of got there a little bit with COVID, but we didn't really it wasn't real equity. And that's the narrative that I think we now have to collectively understand and push for. There is a limited point in the developed world feeling really smug about its own decarbonisation pathways. Unless it's also providing support to other countries to do the same, they have not done much to cause this problem. They cannot be expected to carry it out on their own, but they can capture the opportunities of it. If we understand that this is a partnership to create a better future, as you said. But we're going to talk to Vanessa.

Christiana: [00:13:35] Hold on because I want to push back on. Did we really learn it with COVID?

Tom: [00:13:41] That's why I said we didn't, we partly learnt it.

Christiana: [00:13:42] If we had, everyone on this planet would be vaccinated. And the fact is that COVID vaccinations have just made the difference between the global south and the global north even more acute. So the fact that we have not been able to provide vaccines to everyone who needs it is appalling. So we have not learned that.

Tom: [00:14:09] I know I agree with you. And thank you for the correction. I mean, we're vaccinating children in developed countries before we're vaccinating the elderly in emerging economies. And if you look at the numbers, it ranges from like 96-98% of those who want them have had vaccines in UK, Western Europe down to like 1 to 2% in some African countries.

Paul: [00:14:27] So I mean, I don't believe in a deity, I don't believe in an organising sort of superior type of intelligence that's testing us. But if she's there, she's given us like two big wake up calls. She said here, COVID, this is a chance for you to learn your lesson and then we don't get it. Then she's like, Yeah, the Ukrainian wants me to learn your lesson. I mean, you know what? Will we be thrown next? We've got to learn these lessons. And by the way, I just wanted to broaden things out a little bit because, you know, it crystallizes so well, you know, if we're going to push for 7% reductions a year, Ukraine is this great prompt for us getting off Russian oil and gas. But let's also remember, it touches other parts of climate change. I was reading going into 2022, 44 million people, this is a heartbreaker so I'm sorry, going into 2022, according to the World Food Program, 44 million people in 38 countries are already teetering on the edge of famine. And, you know, combined Russia and Ukraine account for about a quarter of the world's wheat exports. In fact, the World Food Program also warned that 13 and a half million tons of wheat and 16 million tons of maize are currently stuck in those two countries. Now 2019, research from Greenpeace said 62% of cereal crops are used as livestock feed, with just 23% feeding people. Do you remember you were saying about in World War Two, when you drive alone, you drive with Hitler, when it turns out when you eat beef, you eat with Hitler. And this is a whole another frontier, the future of food, which we're talking about extensively. But for those who are interested in the business solutions, a last factoid for you. The large asset manager, Schroders estimates 30 trillion will be needed to invest between now and 2050 to ensure food security. So there are huge changes there as well.

Tom: [00:16:20] Yeah, no, that's a great point on the food. And it's just terrifying the degree of dependence that the world has actually on that breadbasket of the world of Ukraine and Russia and the interruption of those supplies and what that's going to do to fuel prices and hunger around the world. That's a really great point in solidarity. And you also made the point and we've touched on this in the last few weeks about the importance of this moment being a spur to these annual 7% reductions. Christiana, you began to go into the IEA analysis that actually this is entirely possible. Anything else you want to share on that before we move on? No? So shall we move on to the interview now? Vanessa Nakate is a remarkable young woman. She is a leader of the global school strikes for climate, inspired originally by Greta. We met her some years ago in Davos when she came to raise her voice. And since then, her profile has just risen for being on the cover of Time magazine and author of the book The Bigger Picture. She has become one of the most eloquent and powerful voices on climate from the African continent. Speaking about it from that perspective. Christiana, you spoke with her just a couple of days ago. Here's the interview and we'll be back afterwards with some more analysis.

Christiana: [00:17:29] Well, Vanessa, how delightful to see you again. And thanks for taking the time to join us on Outrage + Optimism! While you're actually on travel for work as part of your work is really lobbying and continuing to raise awareness on climate change and what we're not doing on climate change. But Vanessa, let's start at the very beginning. You are, I believe, 25 years old, is that correct? And you are the first Fridays For Future climate activist in Uganda. You are the founder of the Rise Up Climate Movement. You are the founder of the Vast Green Schools Project that aims to install solar panels on all of Uganda's 24,000 schools. You have spearheaded the Campaign to Save Congo's rainforest, and you are the author of the book A Bigger Picture, which is available both in print and audio narrated personally by you. How on earth did you get all of that done in 25 years? That's just amazing. But I would love to know, Vanessa, how did this all start? Because, I mean, you yourself must admit that it's not every Ugandan girl who grows up to be a young climate activist. So where did the spark come from? Where did the awareness and the passion, because there's no doubt that you have a passion around this. Where and how did that get sparked?

Vanessa Nakate: [00:19:12] Well, thank you so much, Christiana. First of all, I would like to mention that I really honor the work that you have done. And you're such an inspiration to me and I know to so many other young women across the world. So my journey of activism started in 2018, and that was a period before my graduation which took place in 2019. So usually we have like some months of not much study but just preparation for graduation around seven months. So I decided that I wanted to do something for my community during those seven months. So I started to carry out research about the challenges that the people in the community were facing. And when I found out that climate change was one of those challenges, and actually the greatest threat facing the lives of so many people right now, I decided to read more about it to get to understand what global warming really means. To get to understand the climate change impacts that were already unfolding in my country and some of the things I was reading and actually seeing on the news, for example, the landslides and the floods in areas of Bududa de areas of Bundibugyo. So it made me think about how we all learn about climate change and what we end on in school. Is it being the changes in weather patterns over a long period of time, but not having the reality of what's actually happening on the ground. So I remember also in that period speaking to my Uncle Charles and asking him whether he had noticed weather patterns from when he, you know, the changes in weather patterns from when he was much younger and, you know, at that time in 2018. And he told me there had been some changes because he himself is a farmer. So those are the things that really, you know, pushed me to join the climate movement. And, of course, studying the climate strikes in the first week of January in 2019, the inspiration to start the climate strikes was, you know, after seeing Greta from Sweden organizing and striking every Friday.

Christiana: [00:21:24] Well, you know what's fascinating about that, Vanessa, if I have understood this story, is that you are not just self educated on climate change because it is all the research that you continue to do. But you actually discovered about the effects of climate change on your own because you were interested in what is affecting the communities. So you basically bore yourself into that hole of climate change completely on your own, out of your own interest. It's not because you found out later about the effects on farmers such as your uncle and others. But you basically really self taught and self discovered climate change. That is just an amazing start to your journey, is that correct?

Vanessa Nakate: [00:22:29] Yeah, that's very correct, because when I started the climate strikes, actually, what I knew were the impacts that were already happening, like the landslides and the floods and the droughts. But more and more things I got to learn on the way as I continued my activism.

Christiana: [00:22:48] Wow. So, Vanessa, that takes me to ask you, because you're self educated to ask you because you've been so vocal about the link between climate change and education for girls. And it seems to me if I have understood what you have been speaking and writing about, that you see a two way street on this. One is that climate change, the flooding, the landslides actually destroys schools and therefore impede, especially girls, from having their education. The other way to look at it is that girls need the education to understand what is going on around them. Is that the way you see it or how do you see the link between climate change and girls' education?

Vanessa Nakate: [00:23:42] Yes, I agree with both the points, but to start with, one of them, climate change disproportionately affects so many women and so many girls, you know, across the world. And like I’ve said, with the increase in climate disasters, you know, it doesn't just end on the statistics. That's why we say climate change is, you know, more than that a point. It's more than statistics and it's about the people. Because when these disasters happen, homes are left destroyed, farms are left destroyed, schools are left destroyed. So definitely the climate crisis exacerbates already existing inequalities that so many girls and women face in different parts of the world. You know, in many societies, women have the responsibilities of providing food and collecting water for their families. So usually some of the things that climate disasters affect are things like access to water and things like access to food. So in the process of farms being destroyed by flooding or by landslides, women are on the frontlines when these things happen. If it's in the case of water sources drying up, women have to walk long distances to collect water for their families. You know, we've read articles that have talked about how many girls drop out of school as climate disasters escalate to help their parents, to help their mothers in, you know, recovering what has been lost on the farms or collecting water for their families, even in terms of, you know, when when families have lost everything and they are looking for a way out, you know, to recover from the climate disasters, many of them are forced to give up their girls for marriage and with expectation of a bride price that can help them recover from, you know, the climate disasters. So it's evident that, you know, the climate crisis disproportionately affects so many women and girls as it continues to escalate. That's why there is a need for girls' education. There is a need for women empowerment. Project Drawdown lists 100 things that we can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And ranked number five is education of girls and family planning. So we realise how much education is a key solution to tackling the climate crisis, especially education of girls. We've also seen how the communities that are most vulnerable to the climate crisis are the same communities where girls are most likely not going to finish school or are not going to go to school at all. So there is a need to really prioritize girl education as a right and also as a solution that we need to tackle the climate crisis as it will help build resilience of individuals, resilience of families, resilience of, you know, communities and societies. And we always, you know, advocate for women leadership, women leadership in climate conversations where decisions about our planet are being made. And many times one of the ways to have more women leadership is to educate more girls, you know, to believe in themselves that they can be women leaders like Christiana one day. You know, it's to empower more women to believe that they can ratify environmental treaties one day. And again, this is a solution that will reduce already existing inequalities and reduce greenhouse gasses all at the same time. So that's why I really see the link between education and, you know, women empowerment plus the climate crisis. The two, you know, go hand in hand as the climate crisis, you know, exacerbates already existing gender inequalities. It's important for people to know that we can have, you know, climate justice without gender equality.

Christiana: [00:27:38] You know, Vanessa, can I share a frustration with you? Because what you have said is all entirely correct and is backed up by volumes of data and research and publications. And my frustration is, we're not seeing enough response to that. Am I the only one who's seeing that? Or are you beginning to see at least the beginnings of change on education for girls, for climate purposes, but also beyond that?

Vanessa Nakate: [00:28:14] Well, I think that the process towards achieving that is still very slow, especially, from a place of it being a right for every girl and every woman to it actually being a climate solution for all of us. So I think that there needs to be more awareness to be created. There needs to be more platforms given to communities or to people who are talking about this intersection. You know, like I said, many people think about climate change in the lens of only statistics or in the lens of only data points. But they don't look at it at the center of what happens to people and climate disasters occur. So I think that we are moving, we are hopefully moving in the right direction because more data is being collected from Project Drawdown about these issues. We've seen, you know, the Malala Fund as well do a report about education and the climate impact. So I think that the more we have these reports coming out, making the intersection so clear and giving the available data and the more awareness is created, I think we could hopefully start speeding up in the right direction.

Christiana: [00:29:31] Recently, Vanessa, Uganda was again Kampala specifically was again hit by floods and the schools had to be closed again, which is a recurring tragedy. And we've read that UNICEF deployed some very sophisticated tents to support the schools reopening in those flood affected districts in Uganda. Is that new? Is UNICEF and other international organizations, are they becoming, A, more aware, B, more agile and more able to react quickly to address specifically this intersection that you've spoken about, which is the ravages of climate change and the back then or the school closing. So the decrease in educational opportunities, do you see any progress there?

Vanessa Nakate: [00:30:46] Well, first of all, I've said that this is not something new. You know, the floods aren't just happening in Kampala, you know. As of recent, they've been happening for quite a long time. But not just the floods, but the landslides in areas of Kasese, the landslides and the flooding in areas around the Mount Elgon, in areas of Bududa, in areas of Bundibugyo that have left schools buried, and with students, you know, being left to have to walk distances whereby they have to cross literally a lake that has you know, that has been temporarily put in place because of the floods. So, you know, the occurrence of these climate disasters is not something new in my country. And, of course, as these disasters continue to happen, we see organizations come in and support different schools or different people that have been impacted with that humanitarian support. But I think that we need more than the support that comes after the disaster. I think that there is much more support needed to prevent these disasters from happening because, again, as these disasters happen, people lose so much from their homes to their schools to their lands, to their farms. So I think that there is a need for people to receive this kind of support to help them live more sustainably or to help them be able to protect themselves from climate disasters. It's better to give that support when someone has a roof over their head. It's better to give that support when the child is still going to school. But when that support comes in the aftermath of the disaster, people are receiving this support, but they've already lost everything. That's why there is a need for governments to. I'm looking for the word to use. I think it's proactive. To be proactive. Yes. So not to be reactive. So reactive is important because. Yes, it will help people who have been impacted. But I think we also need more proactive, you know, solutions that will protect people and reduce the impact of these disasters on schools or on people's lives.

Christiana: [00:33:14] So that takes me to want to talk with you, Vanessa, about Africa as a whole, because what strikes me is in the health sector, in the international health sector, it has been well known for years that preventing a disease is better than curing it, that preventing the disease is cheaper than curing it, that preventing the disease is better for the person than curing it. That is by now established wisdom in the health center. We don't always live up to that, but nobody questions it. It seems to me that that same kind of thinking that you have just put on the table is still lacking in climate change. We don't have an established wisdom that is preventing the, we we know it because we read it, but it's not normalized out there. It is not something that governments or institutions are actually focused on to say, you know, let's prevent this. And because if we did, then we would be reducing our emissions much faster. And that is especially true, it seems to me, on the whole continent of Africa, because Africa is responsible for less than 4% of our global greenhouse gas emissions. And yet it is the continent, as a continent that is most vulnerable, that is most hard hit, and not one that I would say is being focused upon with a preventative or a proactive attention on climate change.

Vanessa Nakate: [00:35:02] Well, I'll start by saying that these are some of the horrible realities of the climate crisis. Like you've mentioned historically, the entire continent of Africa is responsible for less than 4% of global emissions. And we had so many Africans are suffering some of the worst impacts of the climate crisis. You know, it's not just about the floods and the landslides and the droughts happening within Uganda. Many African countries are on the frontlines of the climate crisis. We've seen cyclones such as Idai rip apart large parts of the African continent and leaving thousands of people dead, thousands of people displaced, and houses and homes and homes and hospitals, you know, being destroyed because of these disasters. We've seen, you know, the most recent tropical tropical storm Anna in southern Africa, followed by Cyclone Batsirai, you know, affecting regions that are already recovering, you know, that were already recovering from, you know, different cyclones. So we've seen the occurrence of, you know, the different climate disasters across the African continent. We've seen the shrinking of water sources like the shrinking of Lake Chad. So I think that, you know, when it comes to climate change, it is something that is happening right now for any African nation. And, you know, the other horrible reality of the climate crisis is that while the African continent is on the frontlines of this crisis, it is not on the front pages of the world's newspapers.

Vanessa Nakate: [00:36:38] So there is, you know, much coverage about what is happening in terms of the impacts of climate change and also even the people or communities that are rising up. And speaking about these climate impacts, many of them are struggling to have their voices heard. Many of them are struggling to, you know, have their voices listened to. Many of them have struggled, you know, to be able to attend conferences. For example, the COP26 in Glasgow that left so many activists from Africa not being able to attend because of lack of accreditation, because of lack of funding. We've seen the media representation of the stories of activists from Africa and what is happening in Africa because of climate change. So I think that, you know, these two are some of the major realities of the climate crisis. That those who are least responsible for climate change are suffering some of the worst impacts of this crisis. And while they're on the frontlines of the crisis, they are not on the front pages of the world's newspapers.

Christiana: [00:37:45] Well, there is the one thing that will be on the front pages of the world's newspapers at the end of this year is COP27 in Egypt. So that is a huge opportunity to truly use that to make a mark. What will make COP27 truly an African COP?

Vanessa Nakate: [00:38:07] Well, I've had so many people and literally all of us are calling COP27 an African COP, which is true, because it's going to be on African land and African soil. But I love that you've asked what will really make COP27 an African COP and not just it being in Africa. I think one of the things is, you know, the highlighting of, you know, the impacts that are already happening on the African continent and how, you know, climate change is not something that's coming in the future, but something that is happening right now. And I think one of the key things that need to really be put and acknowledged on the agenda is the issue of loss and damage that is already happening right now on the African continent. So there's so many things that would make it an African cop. But one of the major things would be climate finance for mitigation, for adaptation and a compensation fund for loss and damage. Like we always say, we can't adapt to extinction, we can't adapt to starvation. And that is what the climate crisis is doing. It's pushing people to places where they cannot adapt anymore. So I think, you know, there is a need for climate finance to be not only promised, but actually to be delivered to African nations, to be able to build more sustainable economies, to be able to recover from disasters as losses and damages continue to escalate because of the climate crisis, there is a need for separate funds for mitigation, separate funds for adaptation, and separate funds for loss and damage. So I think addressing the issue of loss and damage and putting money for loss and damage at COP27 will be one of the things that will, you know, ensure that it is indeed, you know, an African cop. And also the other thing just to add, is the representation of African voices at this scope. Because, you know, I remember thinking about how, you know, it would be so sad to get to Egypt and to have more voices from the global north at the COP, whilst the people within the continent have not been able to go to the court probably because of funding or access to accreditation. So I think the full representation of African voices, I think it will be another thing that will ensure that this is an African court because we can tell our stories ourselves, you know, and every community, you know, they can tell their own experience and they know the solutions that they need to address the climate crisis.

Christiana: [00:40:57] Vanessa, are you aware of any plans to really enable that, to enable a strong presence of African representatives? Governments will obviously be there, but African voices from the stakeholder side, from youth, from scientists, from community leaders. Are you aware of any plans to really be able to to bring those voices to the COP?

Vanessa Nakate: [00:41:30] Not really, but to speak for the activists. I have been working and I'm still working with a group of activists within Rise Up Movement to try and reach out, you know, to different people and to different organisations to see how they can support African activists to go to the COP, either through, you know, accreditation or through funding. So I think so far that is the thing that we are working on to try and reach out to as many organisations as possible. And if there is anyone I know, there is someone who has the capacity, you know, someone who will be listening to this, who has the capacity to support this. When we reach out to you, please respond. If you can give accreditation, that is amazing. If you can support and funding an activist, that is amazing. And if we are not able to reach out to you, please reach out to us as well.

Christiana: [00:42:27] Vanessa, that is such a good call to action for our listeners. How would you know if there are listeners who would want to support immediately after you were called to action? How would they do that? How do they contact? How do they accredit? What is the actionable point here?

Vanessa Nakate: [00:42:45] Well, I think the actionable point is to reach out to us. It can be through social media as Rise Up Movement. It can be through me, myself. You can write to me in my, you know, social media. But I think that for organisations it's about the issue of accreditation and funding. So in whatever you know, whatever resources the organization has, they are, you know, welcome. Even if it's just one activist, even if it's just to activists, that also makes a difference.

Christiana: [00:43:18] So we will put your contact information in the show notes so that people can write to you or to the Rise Up Climate Movement directly. And so you've heard it here from Vanessa. The request to support the participation to register, because you know that the Secretariat of the convention needs everyone to be registered before you get to the COP. It's out and it's not an open meeting. There is prior registration, so if you are authorized as an organization, Vanessa's request here is to include an African activist within your ranks in order to be able to to get them there and get them in. Thank you, Vanessa. That is really important to hear. A very, very specific call to action and to support. And Vanessa, what are your plans for this year, as we still have a few months before the cop and then would love to hear what are your plans at COP27 itself. But what are your plans for this year for the next, let's say, nine months of this year?

Vanessa Nakate: [00:44:34] Well, I think, you know, for this year, one of the things is to continue with the installation of the solar panels and eco-friendly cookstoves in the different schools, we've done installations a find in 15 schools and hope to do in more schools in the following months. And I think the other thing is to work with the different activists, something that I already mentioned, to ensure that there is a representation of African activists at the COP. But we are also trying to work, you know, to ensure there is also a representation at Stockholm+50. I think that's happening in June. So those are some of the key, you know, events that we are really looking at to ensure that there is a strong African representation. And so basically it's to just continue with activism and to continue with the school project and to just continue working with the rest of activists to ensure there is, you know, this representation.

Christiana: [00:45:38] Well, I wanted to hear what you're going to do at the COP27, but would you mind telling us just a little bit more of what you were doing with the school's project installing those solar panels? Just give us some color in some numbers perhaps on that.

Vanessa Nakate: [00:45:52] Well, thank you for the school project. We do installations of solar panels and eco-friendly cookstoves. And why I started this project was one to enable and allow an easy transition to renewable energy, especially for the schools, because many times we talk about the need to transition, but then many times you also forget who can afford this transition, who can access this transition. So through this project, hopefully we can transform as many schools as possible into the use of renewable energy and also for the eco-friendly cookstoves to, you know, to give schools an alternative that will reduce on the use of their firewood for preparation of food. Because most of the schools in my country heavily depend on firewood for, you know, food preparation. And so far we've done installations in 15 schools and hope to do installations in more schools.

Christiana: [00:46:53] And when you say we have done installation, what does that look like?

Vanessa Nakate: [00:46:57] When I started the project, it was just me working on it. But now we do these installations with other activists within the Rise Up Movement. So it's not just me doing the installations now, but there is also a support of the different activists to help run the installations and reach out to the schools.

Christiana: [00:47:18] So you literally, physically, personally are installing these solar panels?

Vanessa Nakate: [00:47:24] We do hire local suppliers to help with the construction of the eco-friendly cookstoves and the installation of the solar panels. But we need to be there. I also need to be there in person to ensure that this process is successful and it's done really well. And even when I'm not there, that's why I said we, there are the activists who can be there to, you know, to monitor the process and make sure that the installations are done really well.

Christiana: [00:47:58] The installations and the other thing that I learned, Vanessa, when I was working on similar projects is, it's not just the technical installation, it is also the acculturation because the families who live there have not used these technologies before and are not used to it. And so such an important role for you and your colleagues to be there and help them over that bridge to the new, to help them feel more comfortable and more confident of using the solar panels or or alternatives to firewood burning stoves.

Vanessa Nakate: [00:48:34] Yeah, I think you know, I think there is a need to have, you know, that kind of relationship, you know, with the people who are receiving these installations. So that is not just you dumping installations in schools or dumping installations in communities. So actually, before we do these installations, we first go and have meetings and speak with the teachers or speak with the head teachers of the schools, or sometimes even speak to the chair, the chairman or the chairwoman of that area about the project. So from the beginning, it has been, you know, a place whereby we first reach out to the schools and then explain what we are going to do, and then it's up to them to say, yes, we welcome you and we want this or not. So I think there has been that kind of relationship with the installation that makes it easier for us to even receive feedback after the installation, you know, to find out how the schools are doing, to find out how much they're really benefiting from these installations. So I do agree that there is a need to not just dump installations, but to actually create and just build this relationship with the people, you know, in those communities.

Christiana: [00:49:53] Exactly. That is your very important role. Well, Vanessa, thank you so much. Thank you so much for joining us and for bringing this very unique perspective in such an eloquent manner. Thank you very much. And you know, we always ask our distinguished guests at the end of our podcast, one thing that you are outraged about, and there are many, but you can pick your favorite. And one thing that you're optimistic about.

Vanessa Nakate: [00:50:28] I think I'm really outraged by the gap between the promises and commitments of leaders and their action. I can give you an example. When I was in Nairobi recently for the I think UNEP event, I remember asking the different ministers from the Global North whether they believe that countries that are on the frontlines of the climate crisis deserve our help. And all of them were quick to, you know, give a thumbs up and say that, yes, indeed, they believe that they deserve our help. And then I followed up with the second question to ask if their countries will commit to putting money for loss and damage. And all of a sudden there was a sudden, you know, kind of silence in the room and a fear of actually committing to their countries funding, loss and damage. So I think that's one of my you know, my outrages, the gap between promises and actions that are followed after. And I think, you know, the thing that I’m really optimistic about. I think it's the issue of hope even while doing activism, because there is a need to have hope. Well, you know, we continue to advocate even when there is no reason to believe. I think we need to believe anyway, even when it feels like everything is against hope, I think we should have hope because for me, hope is the strength that we need, you know, to continue doing activism. Personally, if I have no hope, then it's hard for me to speak out. If I have no hope, then it's hard for me, you know, to continue demanding for justice. But I feel like when there is hope, then there is a vision that you carry in your mind, you know, in your heart about the kind of future that you want. So I think hope is the thing that makes me believe that, you know, another world is not only necessary but actually possible for all of us. And just to add something that a friend of mine, Alexandra, shared with me today, she told me that, you know, people need to learn to appreciate even the small actions that they're doing in their communities, because we are all like a drop in an ocean, and the ocean would not exist without a million jobs. So to me, I think that was really so powerful that in the end, you know, we have to believe and hope in our own actions and what we are doing in our communities, because even that is actually transforming the world.

Christiana: [00:53:08] Absolutely. Beautifully put. Well, Vanessa, that that challenge that you lay before the representatives of developed countries is actually on video. And so we will put that video also in the show notes for our listeners to watch, because it was a very powerful moment. But I want to tell you, Vanessa, that you are a ray of hope for so many people and you're a very powerful drop in that ocean. So thank you for all the work that you're doing. 

Vanessa Nakate: [00:54:39] Thank you so much. 

Christiana: [00:53:41] And thank you on behalf of Paul and Tom, who decided that it might be a more fun conversation just between two women. So thank you to Paul and Tom for their generosity to us to step away for a few minutes. And thank you to you, Vanessa, for taking the time and for your eloquence and the power of your work.

Vanessa Nakate: [00:54:04] You're welcome. Thank you so much as well.

Clay: [00:54:07] And thank you from me.

Christiana: [00:54:09] There you go.

Sarah Thomas: [00:54:12] Thank you from me as well. I hope it goes well today.

Christiana: [00:54:14] Bye. Thanks.

Tom: [00:54:24] So how wonderful to finally have Vanessa on the podcast. We've been wanting to have her on for a long time. Christiana, that was an amazing conversation. Paul and I were listening to it and we're really blown away by that discussion. What would either of you like to add about what you left that conversation with?

Paul: [00:54:40] Vanessa's done amazing things and her work is inspiring, particularly, you know, the solar electrification. But I mean, just every time I encounter someone from the frontline of climate change, I find it very, very moving and very difficult. You know, the contrast with, for example, the front line of climate change in Germany where there are terrible floods. And Angela Merkel says, you know, there's no word in the German language to describe this devastation. And then really one of the richest countries in the world rushes about and kind of solves problems for very large numbers of people really quite quickly without a great deal of human suffering. You know, travel on an airplane for a very short distance to Uganda. And it's a completely different story. There are catastrophic floods, mudslides, schools, homes destroyed, people displaced. And there simply isn't the infrastructure, all that industrial power of a country like Germany to protect people. And so, you know, I'm just kind of so thankful to have heard her testimony. And I hope that we all hear it because, you know, it's that thing, you know, they came for the, you know, the communist. But I wasn't a communist. And so I didn't do anything. And then they came for the Jews and I wasn't a Jew, so they didn't do anything. And then climate change came for me. You know, Vanessa is giving us that warning now and we have to hear it.

Christiana: [00:56:09] I was well, again, delighted with her eloquence and how clearly she communicates what she has thought about very deeply. But I honestly was not aware of the fact that in addition to her having been self taught on climate and such a powerful activist on what we have to do, especially in the Global North. I wasn't aware of the fact that in addition to her activism, which would be basically on policy, she's also a hands on person. So, you know, this involvement that she has to put solar panels on schools and how she's going about that, I thought that is such a powerful combination because it's the micro, if you will. It's the micro work that needs to be done hands on, combined with the macro policy advocacy. It is the awareness of how Africa is one of the most vulnerable regions, continents of the planet, and hence being so negative and negatively impacted. And at the same time, even if they have negligible emissions, they can also do something on mitigation by putting solar panels on making them actually also much more resilient and much more energy independent. So that capacity to work at what other people might think are two completely different extremes of a gamut or two, perhaps for some people, mutually exclusive engagement vehicles. She doesn't see it like that. She's like, she takes to use your word at the beginning. She takes a holistic approach.

Paul: [00:58:07] Multitasking.

Christiana: [00:58:09] Multitasking, there you go. And I just thought that is, I wasn't aware of that. So I was delighted to learn that.

Tom: [00:58:14] Yeah, I completely agree. I was kind of blown away by that level of sort of organization and focus that she was able to bring to her work, not only the international climate focus, but also implementing things on the ground. And also in that conversation, we did reference the fact that she needs help. Right. So if listeners are keen to pile into this and help in some of that implementation work, I think that would be very welcome. And there'll be details in the show notes about how to do that. You both made excellent points and I would agree with both of them. And the only additional thing I think that I would like to say is one of the things that really struck me is she lives undeniably in a country that is on the front lines, that is facing a difficult future. She must have felt, in many times like a lonely voice who's trying to pull people around to focus on an issue that is far from their daily perspective. And she's full of hope and she's full of optimism and determination and courage. And when you see people who exhibit that type of attitude and approach, you think, who are we to not actually wake up with exactly the same level of determination and optimism or commitment or more, right? Because if she's able to do it, we sure as hell should be able to find with all the resources that are available to most of the listeners of Outrage + Optimism and indeed to us to say, look at what Vanessa Nakate has delivered and achieved. And with this incredible spirit and determination and optimism, that is a lesson and a model and an example to all of us. And I would also say to young people who are understandably suffering with anxiety about climate change, and we've talked about that a lot before. Vanessa's example is interesting because she's come from the front lines and she's found that optimism, determination, which I would say is probably also connected to her on the ground grassroots work. So I think it's worth people who are and we do it, too, right. Struggling with that anxiety to look at her example, to read her book, to think about that because she's an amazing leader who represents what we need to do and also how we need to do it.

Christiana: [01:00:12] Indeed, indeed. Well put, Mr. Carnac.

Paul: [01:00:17] Very well put.

Tom: [01:00:18] Right, so that's another episode of Outrage + Optimism! Thanks for joining us. We're continuing to delve into these issues in this ever changing world that is concerning. But we've got to face it with determination and stubborn optimism and hope and courage. This week, we have music for you from Afrie. We're going to hand you over in a minute so that you can hear more about it. Thank you for joining us. We'll be back next week as ever. We've got some great episodes coming up, some amazing guests in the coming weeks. So do subscribe. Stay with us. We will see you soon. Bye bye.

Afrie: [01:00:48] Hey, my name is Afrie. I'm a Ugandan musician and I'm so passionate about the African girl, which is why I'm so excited to introduce to you my song, Let Her Know, which is all about letting the African girl be, by educating her and by empowering her. I believe that girl's education is directly linked to climate change because once we empower our girls by educating them, then we light up the green future that we all dream about and are working towards. So enjoy.

Let Her Know by Afrie [01:01:32] [Song Plays]

Clay: [01:05:07] So there you go. Another episode of Outrage + Optimism! My name is Clay. I'm the producer of this podcast and we actually have a lot to cover. So, hey, let's just get into it. The song that you just heard was Let Her Know by Afrie and I mean, come on, it was so good. Am I right? So it's just the best having such talented artists on the podcast. And this week we had both our guest and our artist from Uganda. It's amazing. But about Afrie, she has more music that you can listen to and I highly recommend checking out her YouTube channel. There's a music video for Let Her Know and some fun behind the scenes footage from the making of it. So I'm sure you picked up in her intro, but her energy is infectious and she's great on camera. So check the show notes for links to her music and YouTube for more. Enjoy. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you to Vanessa Nakate for coming on our podcast. There is so much that you can do to support Vanessa, her work, and to help her voice get elevated at COP27. So she has a book you can purchase and read. It's called A Bigger Picture. She has a GoFundMe that you can donate to for the solar panel and eco cookstoves that she's installing links for both of those in the show notes. And as mentioned in the show earlier, if you have funding, accreditation or can sponsor an activist at COP27, we have included in the show notes Vanessa's social media accounts as well as the Rise Up Movement’s links where you can get directly in contact to help. Because these activists like Vanessa absolutely move the needle on how conversation, statements and pledges need to be met by real action and real money to stop the warming of our planet and the suffering that comes with that. I've also included a video of Vanessa from a UNEP event recently where she confronts Global North ministers on funding for loss and damage at COP27. This was actually also mentioned earlier in the episode. I'm going to go ahead and say that it's required viewing for our listeners so you know what to do. The link is there for you to watch in the show notes. Okay, last but not least, there is a Fridays For Future global climate strike happening tomorrow, Friday, March 25th, or today, if it's already Friday, there are strikes happening in a city near you, so check the website www.fridaysforfuture.org for times and location. There's actually this huge map that you can zoom in on and get directions to the one closest to you. But also, if you can't make it to a strike, there are four digital actions that you can take that Fridays For Future has ready to go. So go to the show notes. It's where everything is. Go, go, go, go, go. In the show notes, click the link, do the four things there's. So there's just a lot of joy and hope and love waiting for you on the other side of taking these actions and using your voice. So let's just do this together. It's the only way we're going to do it. Okay? That is everything from us. Have a great weekend and I will see you at a climate strike.


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