How Europe's decisions on climate change reverberate across Africa

The fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement is next month, and Africa is looking at leaders like Ursula von der Leyen, Charles Michel, and to begin treating the climate crisis like a crisis, writes Vanessa Nakate.

Vanessa Nakate is a climate activist, born in Kampala, Uganda. She was the first Fridays for Future campaigner in Uganda and founded the Rise Up Climate Movement, which amplifies activists’ voices in Africa.

Growing up, I never imagined I would go on strike, start a local movement, and speak at global summits. I’m from Uganda, a small landlocked country in Africa, and speaking out on the international stage seemed impossibly distant for someone like me.

I also never imagined that an issue would become so important to me, that I would feel the need to fight for it with everything I have. But the climate crisis changes everything. Here I am.

What happened? I saw the reality of the climate crisis playing out in my country. In the five years since the Paris Agreement was signed, cycles of drought and flooding have brought famine, poverty and unrest to Uganda.

I have seen climate change alter people’s lives forever, putting food and water, livelihoods and homes at risk. And still, the destruction of our natural world continues – the Congo rainforest, crucial for regulating our climate locally and globally, may be gone by 2100 at current rates of deforestation.

For people in the most affected areas, it is not Fridays For Future, it is Fridays For Now.

Yet, Africa’s fate – whether we are spared from the worst of this catastrophe in the coming decades or not – is largely out of our hands. Most Africans produce among the lowest levels of emissions but suffer some of the worst consequences.

For this reason, decisions taken on climate in Brussels, Washington and Beijing will define our future far more than decisions taken in Kinshasa, Cairo or Kampala. Some people call this carbon inequality. I call it climate injustice.

The EU likes to present itself as a global climate leader. The Green Deal is one step forward – but it is only a step, and not what is needed to help limit global temperature rise to below 1.5ºC.

And the decisions the EU makes in the coming weeks will tell us how serious they are about addressing a problem for which they are historically among the most responsible.

The EU needs to take their decisions in line with the science. The EU has huge influence on its side, and if they show they are serious and drastically cut emissions now in line with Paris and the carbon budget needed to stay below 1.5°C of warming, then other countries will follow.

With every fraction of a degree of warming we face, the devastation increases for millions more people.

Europe can influence the world. What will it choose to do? Still, foreign companies and governments invest in fossil fuel infrastructure in Africa.

Big oil companies plan to flood African countries with plastic products. Quick profits for some come above long-term wellbeing for all, yet again. We cannot eat coal. We cannot drink oil.

I know from experience the appetite for renewable energy and sustainable infrastructure here, I’ve seen it through my work to install solar power and institutional stoves in schools in rural communities.

But how can this match the power and influence of foreign corporations and foreign governments? African countries need help to fund the transition away from fossil fuels, and the EU can invest in our shared future by massively growing clean and affordable energy, and investing in educating girls as one of the most effective ways to draw down carbon.

Do not just build lots of electric vehicles for Europe and send their dirty, polluting cars to Africa. The European Council President Charles Michel said the EU Green Deal is intended as a driver for development, prosperity and wellbeing in Europe and worldwide. I want to believe him.

Of course, this is not only an appeal for our lives, but the lives of people in Europe too. We can all see the climate crisis happening. Deadly heat waves each summer and droughts in South Eastern Europe are just two of reminders of this.

The fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement is next month, and we are looking at leaders like Ursula von der Leyen, Charles Michel, and to begin treating the climate crisis like a crisis.

The carbon clock is ticking.

We don’t have a lot of time.

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