Vanessa Nakate

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The RSE’s held an event for young people to hear the inspirational Ugandan climate justice activist, Vanessa Nakate. At 25, Vanessa is the founder of the Africa-based Rise Up Movement and the Green Schools Project. She began striking for the climate in her home town of Kampala in January 2019, after witnessing droughts and flooding devastating communities in Uganda. She now campaigns internationally to highlight the impacts of climate change already playing out in Africa, as well as promoting key climate solutions such as educating girls. In 2020, Vanessa was named a UN Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as being listed one of the BBC’s 100 Women of the year and the 100 most influential young Africans.


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Please note transcripts are automatically generated, so may feature errors.

Sir John Ball FRSE 0:00
A very warm welcome to the signature event of the Royal Society of Edinburgh to all of you who are here and to all of you who are joining online. So the Royal Society of Edinburgh is Scotland’s National Academy, it has about 1,800 fellows who are experts from all walks of life as well as our substantial administrative stuff. So my name is John Ball. I’m the President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. And I’m a mathematician, I hope you all like mathematics. No, yes. Well, anyway, mathematics is one of many subjects, which are incredibly important for understanding the climate. And it’s the climate that is the subject of our event today. And we’re extremely honoured to have Vanessa Nakate, who is a climate justice activist from Uganda to talk to us. I first encountered Vanessa at COP26, when she gave her a really inspiring address to the conference, which I was there, and I recorded it on my mobile phone, and I sometimes show it to people, it’s really a remarkable speech. And I encourage you, you can find it online, of course. So Vanessa is one of a number of people who are playing an incredibly important role in challenging governments and industry and society at large, to take the many issues, many of them complex, concerning climate change, seriously, and this is, of course, important for all of us. It’s particularly important for you as young people and of course for future generations. So the event will take the form of a conversation, which will be co chaired by Louise MacDonald, who is one of the Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. She’s Director General for the Economy of the Scottish Government, and Mollie McGoran MSYP, who’s Vice Chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament. So can we give a very warm welcome.

Louise MacDonald FRSE 2:08
Thank you so much, John. And hi, everybody. So as I said, I’m Louise. And along with Molly, we’re going to be welcoming Vanessa, and steering us through this conversation as well, this afternoon, so I’m great to see you all delighted to have have you here. And I think, and I’m fortunate, I’ve had a conversation with Vanessa before, and I’ve never failed to be inspired. When I’ve spoken to you and heard you as well. And Vanessa, also, it’s worth knowing that she was named as one of the BBC’s 100 Women of the Year. And also Time Magazine, in the 100 most influential young Africans as well. So you’re in the presence of someone who’s been doing amazing things, all the way through since you’re a teenager and into where you are now. So incredible to have Vanessa with us, as well. I’m going to be stealing us alongside Molly. So Molly, do you want to say hello,

Mollie McGoran MSYP 3:06
Yeah, I just wanted to say an extra welcome to the people that are in the room, and also those who are joining us online as well. Nice to have such a diverse range of people coming with us. So just want to jump straight back into the questions like Louise touched on. So Vanessa was wondering if you could take us back to the beginning of your activism. Where was it? And how did you get involved originally?

Vanessa Nakate 3:27
Thank you very much. I started, you know, my journey of activism started in 2018, when I started to do research about some of the challenges that were affecting the people in my country, Uganda, and when I found out that climate change was one of those challenges, I was very surprised, because, you know, in school, we do learn about climate change in a way, for example, in geography class, but then what we learned doesn’t carry the urgency of the problem, and doesn’t really explain how people are suffering. And when I, you know, found out about this impact, they related to some of the things that I was already seeing in Uganda, like, you know, flooding and landslides and the droughts. And that, you know, really, really made me want to do something about what was happening. And in that period of time, there was, you know, an incredible young person who was striking, you know, in front of the Swedish parliament, that is Greta Thunberg. And when I saw what Greta was doing, I was really inspired by her, to also start organising, you know, the climate strikes in Uganda. So that is how I started striking. You know, every Friday, my very first climate strike was actually on a Sunday because when I, you know, decided that I will do the climate strikes, it was very scary, scary for me. And I was very nervous to do that. Because, you know, I grew up as someone who wasn’t very confident, and someone who was referred to as you know, very shy and very introverted. So it was very hard to step out and hold the climate, you know, the placards and go on the street. But then it was this one evening on Saturday. And, like, I kept seeing the climate strikes, and, you know, the students from different parts of the world. And I was really, like, I was very inspired by what they were doing. But then I couldn’t gather the strength to do it myself. But that evening, I decided that would start striking. Like, actually start striking, and when, you know, I realised that Friday was already passed, because it was a Saturday. And because I felt there was this urgency, I decided to do the strike the following day, and then follow up with the rest of the, you know, activists who are striking every Friday.

Mollie McGoran MSYP 6:18
So to touch on that a little bit more, how do you think that being a climate activist has changed since you first got involved, either for yourself and your own experiences, or for others, as well?

Vanessa Nakate 6:32
Well, you know, speaking for myself, and some of the changes that I have seen, you know, in activism. There has been, of course, a lot when I started activism, I had my own plan of you No, doing it for like seven months, and then continue with, you know, school with, you know, and probably do a master’s and all that. So, I had like a plan to do it for a specific period of time. But then, you know, as the months went by, I just found myself continuing, because it’s very hard to stop when, you know, you see, the problem is still there, it’s very hard to stop when you see that people are, you know, really being impacted, and people are losing their livelihoods because of climate disasters. So I kind of just just kept going and going, and I’m still doing it up to now. And I mean, I think what I can say, that has really changed for me personally, was that in school, I couldn’t, it was always very hard for me to even give like, you know, a presentation in front of a class. So for me to be able to do this, you know, and speak to different people to speak in front of, you know, the students to me, I think that’s something that has changed for me personally.

Louise MacDonald FRSE 8:09
Because now, is it you’ve spoken at the UN? Quite a change, isn’t it? Going from classroom presentation to the UN? That’s amazing. And, and in terms of that change from when you started striking, and, and others, you know, other young people across the world in the school strikes on Fridays? Been a few years now that that’s, that’s been kind of happening. What’s the biggest change that you think you’ve seen, when you think back to when you first started doing it? And you think back to where we are new think where we are now? What what are the things that you think about have really changed? And where do you think you’ve seen impact? And where are the things that have made you feel frustrated or haven’t changed fast enough?

Vanessa Nakate 8:53
Yeah, when it comes to impact what I’ve seen, there’s been a lot of awareness that has been created in the world. Since, you know, the climate strikes since when Greta started the climate strikes in 2018, because she started by herself. But you know, along the way, 2019-2020, even during the pandemic activist continued to organise online. So I think there’s really been a huge, you know, awareness creation around the world. And I think there’s been people asking questions about what they can do. I think that’s very impactful. People asking questions about, you know, what can what they can do in their jobs to address the climate crisis? We’ve had, you know, lawyers ask questions, teachers ask questions. So like, everyone wants to do something about what is happening, which I think is, you know, very, you know, impactful in a very positive way because when we create this awareness, you know, and different people get to know about what is happening, then everyone wants to do something about it, which is really good. I think the frustrations that come with activism, of course, you know, you, you constantly have, you know, these demands of what needs to be done, and then you don’t see that happen, you know, as fast as it should. Because with more delays, you know, more people suffer with more delays, more families are impacted. So I think really, the frustrations come from, you know, the government’s and the leadership. But when it comes to people, there is a lot of awareness that has been created, there is a lot of change that is happening in communities through grassroots projects that are being carried out by different young people. So that that is the positive side of it.

Louise MacDonald FRSE 10:50
And actually I wanted to pick up that point, because I think, you know, we’re not seeing things change fast enough, are we we? It’s just not happening fast enough. And we know, you know, we see every day the impact that it has in communities across the world. So there’s a bit around, you feel frustration around that. But also, we hear young people talk about this and the Scottish Youth Parliament and work that they’ve done, have heard this from young people about a real concern about what’s called climate anxiety, but feeling really, you know, actually scared about what’s happening, what’s happening in the world, but also for lots of young people a bit of a sense of what can we do about it? You know, I’m, I’m not in a position of power, how do I? How do I kind of get involved with that, that real anxious feeling about it? And that kind of feeling quite scared, but also that, that sense of how do I make a difference? Me? Do you ever feel that? Or what would be your what would you say to young people who might be feeling that?

Vanessa Nakate 11:52
Yeah, I’ve experienced some moments of, you know, the frustration and the anxieties. And I mostly experienced that when, you know, I had just started because when you’ve just started, and it’s your first time, I think you kind of feel like, changes will come very quickly. So in the time, when I just started just a thing, a few months into my activism, I started to feel, you know, really frustrated, I started to feel really tired, because you have to keep doing these strikes, but then you’re, you know, you’re feeling like, but these people are not doing anything, the leaders are not listening to us. So those were, you know, my very earliest, earliest moments of feeling, you know, all this anxiety and frustration and, you know, disappointment from the government’s and the decisions that they were making. And, you know, the going through that made me actually stopped doing activism for some time, because, like, I didn’t have, you know, the strength to continue, I just didn’t know how to continue when, you know, the leaders are not doing the right thing. But then I remember speaking with a friend, who really, you know, advised me not to give up and, you know, to keep doing what I was doing, and to believe that what I’m doing is important, but above all, to realise that I’m not doing it by myself, and that, that, you know, different young people across the world who are thinking the same way, who are organising in their communities. So for me, from that moment, that feeling of not being alone, and, you know, feeling like I was part of, you know, a global climate movement, I think it was very, very important for me, but, I mean, many, many young people experienced this, you know, anxiety for me, it really came from that inaction, you know, the frustration of the disasters continuing, and then, you know, that whole pressure of everyone saying, you know, the future is in the hands of young people, even that brings anxiety for so many young people to feel like they have to fix, you know, the planet, they have to fix the bridge, and they have to, you know, fix the future. So I think it’s really important for, you know, the older generation to know that young people can’t do this by themselves and young people and experts. Young people want to live, you know, to be able to live through their childhood to be able to live through their youthful years, but then, you know, all that is being taken up by, you know, this whole responsibility of taking care of the planet of ensuring that we have a future. So, I think that, you know, the older people really need to understand that young people can’t do this alone, we have to do it together, I believe that will help reduce on the anxiety because sometimes the anxiety comes from, you know, that constant saying of young people inspiring young people going to change the world, young people are experts at this. So it’s really about understanding that, you know, the different young people around the world, they just want to have a present, and they want to have a future. So how can we all work together to ensure that that happens, instead of, you know, putting all this huge responsibility on just the young people? So I think that, you know, the places where I’ve seen anxiety.

Louise MacDonald FRSE 15:43
Huge. And I just think that there’s something isn’t there about that. Everyone wants to have a sense of hope, you know, everyone’s looking for where’s the hope is in? When it feels difficult? And it is quite easy, I think, for, for adults to look to young people for that hope. But you’re absolutely right, is there has to be something that’s that we do as a community, and we do it together as well. One one more question from me, and Vanessa, is just thinking about the next, I don’t know, five to eight yours, right? Let’s not do this whole kind of, you know, 20/30 years away, because we don’t really have that much time really, do we? So the next sort of five to eight years, maybe we put you in charge of all of it, right? We’re gonna put you in charge of everything. Okay, just for a minute. But what do you think are the priorities? What are the things that really need to change? If we’re really going to make this difference? And I don’t, not so much at that individual, activist level, but what does the world need to wake up to and what needs to happen in the next five to eight years.

Vanessa Nakate 16:45
I will start by saying recently, you know, I made a visit to a region in the Horn of Africa, that is experiencing the worst drought that it has seen in 40 years, and I got to meet mothers and children that are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. And, you know, to think about five or eight years, I think that is a lot of time, it’s about what we need to do right now. Not what we need to do in five years, because, you know, a child who is starving doesn’t have five years, or, you know, a mother who is struggling to look forward or to look for food doesn’t have eight years, I think it’s about what we need to do right now. And for me, I think what we really need to do right now is to make decisions that ensure that those on the frontlines are protected, ensure that those on the frontlines have access to, you know, basic needs of life, like water, health, facilities, access to food, access to a home, and we know that the climate crisis is impacting all of this. So to go to the root cause of the problem, even as we, you know, address the immediate needs of bringing food or water to communities, but something that will be sustainable, something that won’t be short term, we need to, you know, put an end to all new fossil fuel infrastructure, we need to tackle the root cause of the climate crisis and stop emissions from rising. We need to ensure just transition to renewable energy, keeping in mind, you know, communities that are experiencing energy poverty, right now, many of those communities are in the global south. So it’s really about what we can do right now addressing the root causes of the climate crisis, as well as helping people right now that are suffering.

Mollie McGoran MSYP 18:41
That’s one of the things that we always say at the youth parliament, we have a lovely phrase, that is, young people are the future of climate, but they’re also the here and now, which I think is very akin to what you’ve just touched on. And also to go back to one of your previous points that you started at the top of that question about our life in Uganda and how it compares to life in Scotland, because I feel like we’re all very privileged in here, and we’d love to hear more about your experiences, and how climax activism looks different in those two different parts of the world.

Vanessa Nakate 19:12
Well, yeah, well, when, you know, when you get in, in Scotland, you can definitely tell there is you know, a difference and people are living, you know, in different parts of the world or different kinds of realms, if I should say, and when it comes to, you know, the climate impacts, they are already visible in countries like Uganda, or in countries, you know, across Africa or across the global south. And it’s a crisis that is happening right now, that needs to be addressed right now. When you come to these, you know, places or countries like Scotland many times, you know, people will talk about you know, that maybe today have experienced extra heat or you’re so it, there is really a difference in how people are being impacted by, you know, the climate crisis. And that’s why it’s important to understand, we may be facing the same storm, but we are in different parts. And climate change is disproportionately affecting so many communities. You know, one’s problem here may be, maybe the winter is more cold or, but another one’s problem is I need food today, I need to be able to access to get a plate of food today so that I can live through the days or I can live through the week. So I mean, the differences are very clear that it is the same storm, but it is different boats. That’s why there is really a need to address how climate change disproportionately affects communities, there is a need to address how, you know, communities that are on the frontlines need to be on the front pages, they need to be at the frontlines of you know, climate conversations at the frontlines of solutions, you know, that they need to make their communities better, and to ensure that they are, the communities have livelihoods that they can, you know, hold on to So, of course, the differences are very clear. And what I always tell, you know, fellow activists or, you know, friends, for example, in the Global North is to first of all acknowledge, you know, the privilege that you have to acknowledge that, you know, the climate crisis is not impacting us the same way, and use that privilege to help those on the frontlines. Because many times people find it hard to acknowledge that their privilege. But acknowledging privilege is a first step to doing something about the challenges that people are going through. And when you acknowledge that privilege, then you use that privilege to help you know those on the frontlines to support the communities that are your suffering right now.

Mollie McGoran MSYP 22:07
So I know you’ve touched on a bit than the answer there, which makes my question follow up question a little bit useless. But if you could share one word of advice with young climate activists in Scotland, which we’ve got a lot of in the room, then what would it be? And why?

Vanessa Nakate 22:24
Well, I mean, young people are always being given advice. And I think that young people already, they already know, like, the fact that you’ve said there are activists here. I don’t think they really need advice, because they’ve already seen a problem and they’re doing something about it. Maybe what I can just say is, you know, something that gets said before, no one is too small to make a difference. Thank you.

Louise MacDonald FRSE 22:53
Absolutely. And tell us you’ve also in terms of the the work that you’ve been doing in Uganda, you’ve also been doing your own as well, as, you know, what kind of a world stage and the work that you’ve been doing as an activist across the world. You’ve also been working on projects with schools in Uganda as well. Is that right? Can you tell us a bit about that, Vanessa?

Vanessa Nakate 23:14
Yeah. So in schools in Uganda, we do carry out climate education, to reach out to the different students and help them you know, understand what is really happening and what they can do about it. Because for many, you know, for many students, they may not know what is really happening, they may not know what could impact their food or you know, what is, you know, destroying their parents farms or something like that. So it’s really helpful to kind of go through this education with them and help them understand what’s happening, but also help them understand what can be done to address the issue. And when it comes to projects, I started a project for installing solar panels and eco friendly cookstoves in schools in Uganda. It’s called the VASH Green Schools Project. And I started it to really help driver transition to renewable energy in schools in Uganda, especially those in the rural communities. And also, you know, to enable schools to have access to clean cooking, so most of the schools in Uganda use firewood for food preparation, but with the eco friendly cookstoves. They’re able to reduce that consumption. And with the solar panels, they’re able to access electricity in a more cleaner and sustainable way. Yeah,

Mollie McGoran MSYP 24:41
I’ve seen that project which has made absolutely huge difference. I was stalking you before this.

Louise MacDonald FRSE 24:48
And can you tell us a little bit about I suppose I’m also thinking about the way that climate impacts and the impacts of climate change impacts on different groups and communities. And there’s a lot of discussion about the kind of the disproportionate impact on girls and young women, and how do we can support more and girls and young women in that space? And you’ll have seen a lot of that firsthand, I’m sure. But I mean, is there anything in there that you think we need to do more of, or, you know, the action that we need to kind of take to support that to support more support for development for girls and young women?

Vanessa Nakate 25:24
Yeah. So climate change disproportionately affects women and girls in different parts of the world, especially in the Global South. And I got to learn about these things in 2019, because I was reading a lot and getting to understand climate change and getting to understand how it impacts people. And I got to learn that in some communities that, you know, on the frontlines of this crisis, when they experience these disasters, for example, they lose their farms, or they lose their businesses, many of them are forced to remove some of their children from school. And many times it is there is always a priority about who stays in school. And many times, it’s the girls who drop out of school. And in even worse cases, they are given up for marriage with expectation of a bride price, to help their families recover from, you know, these impacts of the climate crisis. And that is really the first time that I got to understand how, you know, climate change affects education of so many girls across the global South, and how it’s also exacerbating child marriages in these communities. So there is really a need to have, you know, the conversation of, you know, climate and girls, you know, and women because it’s, you know, it’s all connected. So one of the things that I’ve also learned through, you know, activism, is that girls education and women empowerment, you know, can help us in tackling the climate crisis. And I learned this through Project Drawdown, which lists 100 things that we can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and most often ranked among the top 10, you know, solutions is education. And it really goes on to explain how, you know, education and women’s empowerment can help reduce inequalities that women and girls already facing can help build resilience of individuals, which is passed to their families and their communities. And it can also help, you know, have more women in the rooms where, you know, conversations about our planet are being made, so it’s really, you know, one of those solutions that we need to talk a lot about that, you know, the fight for climate justice is not just a fight to, you know, reduce emissions, this is a fight to ensure that girls stay in school and women are empowered, and you know, communities are preserved, and generations can be able to access resources, you know, hundreds of years from now. So it’s really understanding how, you know, climate change is more than data points, but it’s really about the people.

Louise MacDonald FRSE 28:29
And we’re gonna come to some questions that have come from in schools as well in the room and online in a moment, but I’m thinking about coming back to what you said earlier, about, you know, this was quite a scary thing for you to do to start the climate strike yourself, in your local community and to then move into that climate activism, you know, talking on stages at the UN and at COP and these sorts of things. What’s it like when you’re standing there ready to step on stage? What’s that? What is it like for you to be in those spaces? Tell us a bit about that, and your experiences there, but also how you, how do you kind of do that, take the breath and then and then step up to the microphone, as it were, what’s what’s it been like being in those kinds of spaces?

Vanessa Nakate 29:17
It’s very hard for me to explain how I am able to do it. Because, you know, when you ask some of my friends or people gone to school with, they’ll say that, you know, we are completely different people, the person that they saw in class and the person that they see, speaking, they are completely two different people. So that is very, it’s very hard for me to explain how I am able to do it, but there are is, you know, moments where you feel nervous before, you know going to the stage and speaking but then when I start to speak, it starts becoming easier for me and more comfortable for me, as you know, I continue to engage with the people. But how I do it is I really have no explanation.

Mollie McGoran MSYP 30:08
It’s definitely easier to speak when you’re truly passionate about what you’re speaking about. I feel like it just kind of flows naturally when you’re so dedicated to the cause. And after you’ve done all of these amazing achievements, I know this might be a bit into the future. What do you think are your next steps for you?

Vanessa Nakate 30:26
Well, I think that I would like to reach more schools in Uganda with the schools project and get more schools powered with solar energy, and also have more schools access to clean cooking.

Louise MacDonald FRSE 30:43
Can you explain that clean cooking bit a bit more? Because to be honest, for young people in Scotland, that’s the problem. We don’t understand why that is such an important issue. Could you be okay to explain that a bit more?

Vanessa Nakate 30:55
Yes. So the schools that, for example, we’ve worked on, they have like, for example, they have kitchens, you can imagine like, you know, a structure but kitchen, outside, but then they prepare food on open fires, when I say open fires, it’s like they use, for example, three stones to kind of like direct the firewood. So that’s how most of the preparation is for other schools, especially in the rural areas. So one thing with the open fires is that they use, you know, a lot of firewood to do the preparation. And also there is a lot of air pollution, especially for the, you know, the person who prepares the food. And again, you know, most of the times that people when we go to the schools, the people who prepare the food are women. So they’re really exposed to this indoor pollution from the open fires. Now with the eco friendly cookstove, it is constructed in the kitchen, you know, at the school. And what it does, the way it reduces the firewood consumption is that it keep heat within its structure. So you find that, you know, if they put one or two or three firewood in the morning, that heat can stay the whole time or the whole day. So it can be able to prepare the food and warm the food, so they don’t have to use more firewood. And it also really reduces the, you know, the pollution within the kitchen. So before you would go in the kitchen and ask yourself how, you know, the people who prepare the food are able to stay in there for even more than five minutes, because of how you know, polluted it is and you enter and you start coughing because of all the smoke in there. But then with the stove, it’s just takes away all that and it just keeps the heat within the structure. So that heat kind of like, prepares the food for the rest of the day and wanted so they don’t have to use more firewood.

Louise MacDonald FRSE 33:11
So a great example of how climate and health are really linked together as well, doesn’t it in terms of that in terms of reason with that’s so interesting? Well, we really want to see all of that growing. So I hope that’s something you can continue to grow. We’ve got some questions from the room. So Molly, will we move on to those? So I’ve got the first one of them, Balerno High School
, where are you? Hello, so good to see you. The question from Balerno is where in the world are you particularly worried about right now? Where in the world. Which part of the world?

Vanessa Nakate 33:55
Well, I think I would say that. I’m just worried for the communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis. And this isn’t just Uganda, it’s not just countries within Africa. It’s also you know, across the global South, we’ve you’ve probably had, you know what happened in Pakistan, the flooding that left over 33 million people impacted and 1000s more dead as a result of the flooding. So it’s really those communities that are suffering right now as a result of the crisis.

Mollie McGoran MSYP 34:34
So our second question is also from Balerno High School. You did well Balerno. Yeah. A lot of questions. So is what action should our government be taking in reference to the Scottish Government?

Vanessa Nakate 34:48
Yeah, you know, just the Scottish Government or like governments in general.

Mollie McGoran MSYP 34:55
You could do both to both.

Vanessa Nakate 34:59
For governments. You know, the asks are the same. No new fossil fuel infrastructure, a just transition to renewable energy, and also the issue of climate finance, for mitigation for adaptation? And also, you know, a facility for loss and damage that is already happening, you know, in the communities on the frontlines?

Louise MacDonald FRSE 35:22
And could you say a bit more about that loss and damage, because I think, if you’re quite close to the issue, you will understand what some of that can means, but for, for others, that’s going to be a kind of a new idea. So can you maybe expand for us what that what that’s about?

Vanessa Nakate 35:36
Yeah, when I was trying to understand what loss and damage was, I remember watching a video of a fellow activist in Arizona, from Rhonda, and she was explaining how she grew up in this home. And then one day, they lost the home as a result of flooding, and they had to move. And to her that was loss and damage. She couldn’t get her home back. She couldn’t get you know, the place that she had all those childhood memories, but so that is, you know, the easiest way I can explain, you know, loss and damage that people lose things that they cannot get back as a result of the impacts of the climate crisis, when we talk about adaptation. Adaptation helps communities build resilience as these disasters occur. But with that, you know, the rate at which the climate crisis is impacting communities, it is pushing them beyond adaptation. So that is where loss and damage comes in, you know, and, you know, I always say you can adapt to the loss of your culture, you can adapt to the loss of your home or place you used to call home. So this is where, you know, loss and damage comes in. And that’s why there’s really a need to have money to support those that are experiencing or suffering from loss and damage

Louise MacDonald FRSE 37:07
And Scotland’s helped with that already. Is that right? Has the Scottish Government helped with that?

Vanessa Nakate 37:11
Yeah. The First Minister made a pledge to support those that are suffering from loss and damage, I think that was made last year at COP26

Mollie McGoran MSYP 37:25
Of course that’s right. Because those that are the most affected by climate contributed the least to it. So it’s the bare minimum of what we can do.

Louise MacDonald FRSE 37:33
So that like, okay, great. And now, I’ve got a question from James Gillespie. Hi, who I think are online. So I’m assuming a big cheer for whatever James Gillespie pupils are gathered, but good to see you. And I think we’ve maybe touched on some of this before Vanessa, but this gives you a bit of a chance to think about it in one sort of sense. And I was really taken with your comment about, we may all be in one storm, but we’re not in the same boat. And there’s a really powerful and idea. But what does climate justice look like to you? Tell us a bit more about what that it’s easy to see, you know, what does that actually mean for you? And how would we? How would we know it when we see it?

Vanessa Nakate 38:16
Yeah, I think, you know, when we talk about climate justice, we have to first of all understand, you know, what the climate crisis itself is, and the inequality, the inequalities, or the horrible realities of the climate crisis, you know, and how those that are being impacted the most are not responsible for the crisis. For example, the African continent historically is responsible for less than 4% of the global emissions, but we are seeing some of the worst impacts affect African countries. So it’s really first of all understanding, you know, who is historically responsible for this crisis, to see who is suffering as a result of a crisis that they didn’t create, and ensure that climate justice doesn’t leave those communities behind. So climate justice, the same way, as you know, climate change is more than statistics, and it’s about the people. It goes on with climate justice. For me climate justice has to have community it has to have the heart of people in the conversation, that even when you’re talking about, you know, having a solar powered infrastructure in a community, that that, you know, having that infrastructure there, that solution has to be led by the people in that community, they must agree with it, they must, you must, you know, work together with communities to ensure that these solutions are implemented. So, I can say that, you know, not all climate action will be climate justice, but all climate justice will be climate action. So justices really bringing the people in the conversations of, you know, what needs to be done to address the crisis.

Mollie McGoran MSYP 40:10
Thank you so much for that. So I think that’s quite a few of your questions answered from us. But I’m just wondering if there was anything else that you wanted to add? No pressure.

Louise MacDonald FRSE 40:18
I always wonder Vanessa, because you must be being interviewed a lot, right? You get a lot of people asking you lots of questions. Is there anything that you can wish that people would ask you that you never get asked? Is there anything that you think I wish that somebody would ask me that question, or that I could talk about a particular thing?

Vanessa Nakate 40:42
Well, it’s hard to think about right now.

Louise MacDonald FRSE 40:47
And for in terms of individuals, let’s mean, you know, clearly a lot of the responsibility in terms of tackling the climate crisis risks with organisations, with business, with government, and so on. And so it’s important that we don’t just kind of see as this is about, you know, it’s all just down to single kind of behaviours, but it’s part of the picture, isn’t it, that we all kind of think about how we change our lifestyles and think about the things that we’re kind of doing? What are the kinds of things that you would hope that more people would do at that level as well?

Vanessa Nakate 41:22
I think that, I will start from governments and systems. I think, governments have a responsibility to make cities or their countries, sustainable, because many times people find themselves in systems that don’t allow them to live as sustainably as they want to. So there is really a huge responsibility to make cities or to make, you know, countries as sustainable as possible. And it can be through transportation, it can be through, you know, the clothes we wear, or what we eat, but it all starts from the government and making these, you know, making sustainability accessible for the people. I remember, just a few months back, I remember saying to, you know, a friend of mine that I wish we had, you know, this kind of, you know, public transportation, and I say the if you know, I had all the money in the world, I would ensure that, you know, there is all this public transportation in, you know, countries like Uganda or countries across Africa, because it kind of, you know, it raises the needs for things like cars, but when it’s not available in cities, then it makes it hard for people to, you know, live sustainably, for example, in terms of transportation. But if public transportation is made accessible, and even affordable for people, I think that that can really help people, you know, live sustainably. So it really goes back to what has been put in place for the people in those countries, and whether it allows them to live as sustainable as they want. And when it comes to what people can do. I mean, you just decide what you can do. You, you know what you can do. So you decide what you can do, I don’t really think it’s my place to tell people to do this. And to do that, I think it’s my place to tell governments what they need to do. But for individuals, I don’t think it’s my place to do that. I think you just find what you feel you can do, to contribute to fight for climate justice, and just be an activist in the way that you can.

Louise MacDonald FRSE 44:03
Great advice. And actually, that point about public transport is a really interesting one, because actually Molly, we were just talking earlier about, you know, thanks for the campaigning of a number of organisations in Scotland, including the Youth Parliament. There is free and bus travel for under 22’s in Scotland, which was introduced earlier this year. So it’s one of the things that as part of that some of that has been about supporting young people to access opportunities and so on. But part of that also is to encourage more engagement with public transport and to and to kind of think about that so it’s an interesting point. What’s your pride? Maybe pride isn’t the word, Vanessa but when you’re looking back at some of the work that you’ve done, what are the kinds of things that you you look at and think that’s a moment that I treasure or that’s a moment that I can feel? I can look back in my experience and think yeah, I’ve you know, something good has happened there.

Vanessa Nakate 44:59
But I think the moment I, you know, one of the moments I really treasure was the moment when I started doing the climate strikes, because I was scared to do them at first, but that that very first time when I did it, I’m always proud of that moment.

Louise MacDonald FRSE 45:19
Yeah. Molly, any other questions from you? Yeah, I think we are. So listen, everybody, thank you. A huge thanks to Vanessa, and really excellent for us to get the chance to talk to you. And then thanks to those online and in the room, as well. So really, it’s been a real privilege for us to be part of that. And I am now going to hand over to Jeremy Smith to say a few words of thanks. So Jeremy, over to you.

Professor Jeremy Smith FRSE 45:48
Thank you. Thanks very much, indeed, for what was a really inspiring conversation Vanessa. That was, that was wonderful. There were two things, lots of things I got out of your conversation. But there’s two things I picked up in particular, the first of them was the interconnectedness of things, isn’t it everything. It’s an old cliche that everything is connected to everything else. But I think the thing that comes across so strongly is how climate and health and culture and individual behaviours, and all of those things I can think of lots more are all connected. And I think that connectedness is one of the things that comes out of it. And the other little note I made from your conversation, which really impressed me so much was when you said, no one is too small to make a difference. And I thought that was rather not only a lovely thing to say. But I think it’s quite an inspirational thing to say. I think that’s something a lot of people in this room could take away from this event. Sometimes you do feel a bit small and tiny. I know I do quite a lot of the time. I’m just bluffing at the moment. But what I think is a really important thing to bear in mind is that you people, particularly are in a position to make that difference. And to show it however, you may feel at the moment that you’re not. So thank you again, very much indeed. And thank you, Molly. And thank you, Louise, it’s been it’s been a privilege to be here and to listen to you. I’ve got a few other thanks to say. And then there’s a bit of housekeeping. So I’m going to go through those little items. I’ve been given my list. So I will do that. But first of all, a big thank you to all the schools who are here who attended in person. And let’s see if we can get some hands up so that the first look that I’ve got his Castlebrae Community Campus, right, there you go here for Castlebrae Community Campus. Secondly, we heard already that Balerno High School was strong on the questions, but where’s the Balerno? Hello? Balerno. Hello, there you go. Then we’ve got Stewart’s Melville. Yep, there you go. There you go. cheering from the back row. Craigroyston High School are you hear Alas, there maybe they’re not. Maybe they’re maybe they’re stuck somewhere. Travelling here. Royal High School. Yay. There you go. Who else? We got St. George’s School. So yes, there you go. And Portobello High School. Oh, gosh, good. A good set a good sound run from Portobello High School. It’s wonderful to see you. But we also have some people who are engaging with us online using one of these things that we didn’t really know about until about two or three years ago, but suddenly we do which is Microsoft Teams. So out there on teams. We have James Gillespie, so I’ll wave at them. Hello, James Gillespie. We’ve got Holyrood High. there we go. Ross Hall Academy. Yes, they’re there somewhere out there in the ether. Shorelands Academy. Berg share High School. I passed Berwickshire High School on the way here today. That was nice. St. Margaret’s High School, Drummond Community High School and Wallace Hall Academy. So big thumbs up to all those people who are out there somewhere in these tubes somewhere. So there we go. Magic. So thank you so much for coming, everybody. It’s been great to see you here. Thank you again, so much to Vanessa and the team for what is a really inspirational conversation. Thank you again.