By Vanessa Nakate
Across Africa, the climate crisis is happening to us now, and the stories Africans have to tell are urgent – but who is listening?
When The Associated Press cropped me from a photo of youth climate activists in Davos in late January 2020, the story went viral. Since then, I’ve given lots of interviews and answered many questions on how I felt about being erased from that article. The decision to crop me out hurt deeply, but this was just one painful moment in a long cycle of climate injustice for Africans.
I became a climate activist because of impacts I was witnessing at home in Uganda – seeing people die, lose their families, their homes and the dreams they had for the future, all as a result of the climate crisis. This is the story I brought to Davos when I was ignored, but this is also a story that is left out of news bulletins around the world every single day.
In 2019, the world’s media covered fires in California, Australia and the Amazon, but devastating forest fires in the Congo basin were completely absent from international reporting. Africa has consistently been identified by the IPCC (the body that summarises the world’s most up-to-date climate science) as one of the most vulnerable parts of the world to the impacts of climate change. We are truly on the front line, yet you are still more likely to see climate reporting from Antarctica than from communities like mine.
As is so often the case, Africa also sits at an intersection of injustices when it comes to the climate crisis. For a continent that has contributed relatively little to global emissions, we are now the first to suffer their harshest impacts. I have witnessed droughts, floods, and crop failures in my own country. 33 million people in East and Southern Africa are at emergency levels of food insecurity because of floods, landslides, droughts, and cyclones fuelled by the climate crisis.
Even right now, the Horn of Africa is suffering the worst locust invasion in decades. These locusts thrive in unusually wet conditions, and this outbreak follows an extraordinary cyclone season in East Africa in 2019. The impacts on the people in my region have been devastating – scientists are saying a single swarm in Kenya is consuming as many crops in a single day as 85 million people. The climate crisis is happening to us now, in a world that has warmed by 1 degree celsius. At 1.5 degrees of warming, scientists suggest 350 million people in Africa will suffer potentially deadly temperatures every year. For every fraction of a degree beyond 1.5 we go, the consequences will become increasingly unimaginable for people in my community and throughout Africa. This is why my voice, and the voices of other African climate activists, need to be heard too. Our stories are urgent. Too often the media has decided these stories are dispensable – less important than things like a photo that has a nice composition.
This erasure of our voices and our suffering happens constantly, every day. It is good that my story is getting attention now, but we also need to turn this attention towards other activists and communities who are suffering from extreme weather driven by climate change. We need media to tell these stories, to drive the ambitious climate action we need from global decision-makers. And we need global leaders to hear us.