‘Prove us wrong’ activist tells leaders at UN climate talks

Climate activist Vanessa Nakate attends a meeting at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
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By FRANK JORDANS Associated Press

GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) — A Ugandan activist personified the fears of young people and vulnerable countries at Thursday’s U.N. climate talks in Glasgow that world leaders won’t take the action needed to prevent potentially lethal levels of global warming.

“The latest available science tells us that in order to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis, we must reduce global CO2 emissions by somewhere between 7% to 11% this year, and next year, and every year after year, until we get to zero,” Vanessa Nakate told business and political leaders in an impassioned speech at the conference.

In reality, annual emissions are expected to surge in 2021, as the world economy bounces back from the pandemic.

“So I hope you can understand why many of the activists who are here in Glasgow, and millions of activists who could not be here, do not see the success that is being applauded within these halls,” said Nakate.

Experts say that all of the latest pledges made by governments around the world could, if fully realized, bend the curve of global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) — the upper threshold set in the 2015 Paris accord.

But scenarios that look at what countries have committed to in the short term put warming at 2.7C (4.9F), far beyond levels science considers safe for human civilization. The head of the United Nations told The Associated Press on Thursday that he believes the more ambitious Paris goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C is now “on life support.”

“Where I live a two-degree world means that a billion people will be affected by extreme heat stress,” said Nakate.

“Some places in the global south will regularly reach a wet bulb temperature of 35 degrees Celsius (95 F),” she said, referring to a situation of extreme heat that researchers say is becoming increasingly common.

“At that temperature the human body, cannot cool itself by sweating,” said Nakate. “Even healthy people sitting in the shade will die within six hours.”

She called for “drastic action (that) will pull us back from the abyss,” saying past promises on climate change had been repeatedly broken.

“I’m actually here to beg you to prove us wrong,” said Nakate. “We desperately need you to prove us wrong. Please prove us wrong. God, help us all, if you fail to prove us wrong. God help us.”