Vanessa Nakate at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh.
The UN Climate Change Conference (COP 27) has been dubbed ‘Africa’s COP’ – a chance for more African voices to be heard above the din of debate and discussion around the global climate crisis. African activists have struggled to attend previous conferences because of funding and accreditation hiccups; COVID vaccination requirements threw another spanner in the works. This kept the continent’s activists from effectively participating in the decision-making process. Last year’s COP 26, in Glasgow, Scotland, ended without major emitters making firm commitments on climate financing for less wealthy nations already in the teeth of the climate crisis. With the increased severity of environmental disasters wreaking havoc this year in Africa, determined young African activists are in Egypt to table their agenda and make their voices heard where it matters most.
Ugandan activist Nixon Bahandagira’s excitement about the “African COP” soured when he struggled to get funding. But he was not deterred: he set up a GoFundMe to raise the money he’d need to get to Egypt when the campaign fell short. His motivation to keep pushing comes from empathy: “Since I was a victim, I do not want others to suffer like I did”. Bahandagira’s family lost their home to floods when he was nine. Since he began advocating for the environment, he has raised almost US$20,000 to plant one million trees in Uganda. He’s already 350,00 trees in and is determined to keep planting. His advocacy for a better environment has come at a cost: he has faced threats and abuse and was arrested for his campaign against constructing the East African Crude Oil Pipeline.
The project, involving communities in Uganda and Tanzania, is backed by some of the world’s biggest polluters. Bahandagira won’t back down: “We don’t see challenges; we don’t give up. His mission in Egypt? We want the leaders to show us the money and redeem the $100 billion climate financing pledge to developing nations in Africa and other parts of the world”. Oluwatobiloba Ajayi made the seven-hour trip from Nigeria to Sharm el-Sheikh to advocate for clean air and healthier cities. “We want the government and party delegates to understand the impact of air pollution on health and the climate”. Working with a long-time partner of the UN, she had no trouble getting accredited to attend the conference. The only challenge remaining was a familiar one -funding. So, she took to social media to scout for funding opportunities available for climate advocates. During her search, she stumbled on UrbanBetter Cityzen’s open call for applications for its Cityzens4Clean Air Campaign. Besides sponsoring her, the campaign connected her to work with a team of young people in collecting data on air quality across Lagos, Accra, and Cape Town. COP 27 has been a space in which she can share the research findings with others.
In addition to adequate climate financing for vulnerable nations, she hopes leaders will also pay more attention to air pollution. Nigerian activist, Samuel Okorie’s experience with environmental disasters led him to work within the climate space. He is a youth representative at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, YOUNGO. “My goal (while in Egypt) is to amplify youth voices and push for climate finance for countries in the global south”. His attendance at this year’s conference was in doubt when he struggled to secure a party badge to complete his registration. “I wrote to organisations that turned me down,” he said. Happily, his work with the Global Legislators Organization for a Balanced Environment (GLOBE) paved the way for the Nigerian government to offer him a “party overflow badge”. Since arriving in Egypt, Okorie has followed through on his agenda, contributing to conversations around climate finance. On the conference’s youth day, he co-led a peaceful demonstration demanding Loss and Damage financing for nations that have suffered from the impact of extreme weather events.
Source: bird story agency