Five years on from the Paris Agreement, people are asking me: “What has been achieved?” Privilege allows you to use this anniversary to reflect on achievements.
For me, the last five years of the climate crisis has not been a story of successes. In January 2019, I started a protest outside the Ugandan parliament. I was driven to act by what I was witnessing around me: people in my country losing their homes, their incomes and their lives to extreme weather.
Since then, the destruction has only got worse. In 2019, Cyclone Idai was one of the worst storms ever to hit the African continent. Large parts of Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe were ripped apart. Some 1,300 were left dead, many more missing, and an economic crisis was left in its wake.
This year, abnormally warm temperatures and heavy rains have led to swarms of locusts destroying hundreds of thousands of hectares of crops in East Africa – 12 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are in dire need of food. Lake Chad has shrunk to a tenth of its original size over the last 50 years. Half of Nigeria has no access to water.
It is hard to be encouraged by stories of meatless burgers or “moonshot technologies” when communities around you are battling an endless and worsening cycle of drought, famine, cyclones, floods and destruction.
This is my world at 1.2C of warming. This is not progress. Vague, distant targets for 2030 or 2050 will not keep the world “well below 2C” of warming as the Paris Agreement promised. I can tell you, a 2C hotter world is a death sentence for countries like mine.
Privilege allows governments and corporations to think of the climate crisis as a PR opportunity. Being a true leader on climate means taking action to drastically reduce emissions now, in line with what the science tells us we need to do to avert a climate catastrophe. It does not mean saying one thing at home and doing another thing abroad.
Despite promises of "world leading" emissions reductions, and fancy words at global summits, the UK government is still considering giving funding to fossil fuel projects in Africa. This is despite opposition from local people. In fact, the UK government has reportedly pledged £3.5bn to fund fossil fuel infrastructure abroad since the Paris Agreement was signed. We cannot eat coal. We cannot drink oil.
I know that there is a real appetite for clean, renewable energy here, I’ve seen it through my work to instal solar power in schools in rural communities. But this cannot match the power and influence of foreign governments and foreign corporations. Africa needs help in transitioning to clean energy. Educating girls will also benefit all of us – it has been identified as one of the most effective solutions for reducing emissions over decades.
The Paris Agreement was a moment when the developed countries in our world finally heard us shouting for help. For a moment, they looked up and saw Pacific Island nations drowning and African nations going through drought and famine. Places like these have contributed the least to the climate crisis, but are suffering the most. Since then, despite nice words, it seems many of those countries with power and influence have looked back down.
A crucial part of Paris was a promise that developing countries would receive $100bn by 2020 to help them cut emissions. Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, said: “One of the key instruments of confidence is to implement what was promised and the commitments that were made. And one of those commitments is the $100bn.” Yet, it has not happened. The UK is hosting the G7 next year – will it be on the agenda?
In spite of this negligence, on the fifth anniversary of Paris, youth climate activists worldwide are pledging to fight to keep global temperature rise below 1.5C, in 2021 and beyond.
The next five years must be different from the last. We expect governments and corporations to take their responsibilities seriously. We need to start drastically reducing emissions right now, in all sectors, and not just declaring vague, distant targets. Leaders must make the Paris Agreement real and fight for 1.5C – and they must start right now.
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