Move past Earth Day symbolism and far-off promises and make emissions cuts now

Targets are hard to celebrate when your crops are failing, your house is flooded and your children are hungry

Vanessa Nakate
Thursday 22 April 2021 16:36
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<p>‘Dates and targets are just political tools. Rich, big polluting nations need to reduce their emissions drastically’</p>

‘Dates and targets are just political tools. Rich, big polluting nations need to reduce their emissions drastically’

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Every year since 1970, Earth Day has been “celebrated” around the world each April. Yet every year global emissions have continued to rise.

We are already suffering some of the most brutal impacts fueled by the climate crisis. Devastating floods, landslides and withering droughts. It is hard to celebrate when your crops are failing, your house is flooded and your children are hungry. There has been no progress to celebrate for people in Uganda.

This year, president Joe Biden has decided to convene a summit of global leaders. Using the symbolism of Earth Day, he wants more countries to make pledges for reducing their emissions by far-off dates.

Making targets for 2030 is are better than 2050, but dates and targets are just political tools. In a way, they hide what is most real about the climate crisis – that every fraction of a degree matters, and that we must save as much as we can. I became a climate activist because I saw how much had already been lost by people in Uganda at only 1.2 degrees of warming.

Climate activists care about the emissions cuts you make. What do our governments and businesses plan for significant emissions cuts in 2021, 2022 and onwards? We don’t get excited by promises, because we have seen them so often turn out empty.

The UK is claiming to be a leader on the global stage. Yet at the same time, it is considering building new coal mines, and has cut foreign aid from 0.7 to 0.5 per cent of GDP.

In my continent, Africa, electricity demand will double in the next 10 years. On its current course, only 10 per cent of it will be met by renewables. Cheap money flows in from around the world to fund coal, oil and gas in Africa. We know now that fossil fuels are killing us. Air pollution from burning fossil fuels is responsible for one in five deaths worldwide. This money doesn’t care about the health and wellbeing of the people in the countries it goes to. It only cares about profit. And it needs to stop now.

If the UK was a global climate leader, it would recognise that Africa needs finance for renewable energy and other climate solutions. Educating girls is another investment that can improve lives now and reduce future emissions. Empowering girls and young women has an impact beyond the individual, cascading into her family and her community.

We cannot eat coal. We cannot drink oil. Dirty gas is deadly. Rich, big polluting nations need to reduce their emissions drastically in the 2020s, starting now, and need to help countries like mine, Uganda, afford climate solutions to ensure we all have a lifeline. They must stop handing out more money to people digging up and burning fossil fuels.

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