Patience Nabukalu says the West must listen to those who know what the climate crisis is

Ugandan activist Patience Nabukalu was in Turin for the Fridays for Future European meeting: “The Global North should listen to us because it depends on us”.

Drought and famine have killed 900 people in the region of Karamoja, Uganda. For climate activist Patience Nabukalu, this news shows how different the ongoing climate crisis is in the Global South. Patience Nabukalu is an activist affiliated with the Fridays for Future movement and a representative of the Most Affected People and Areas (MAPA), where the impacts of global heating are felt most intensely. Speaking to LifeGate during the Climate Social Camp, which took place in Turin between 25th and 29th July, Nabukalu recounts her perspective on the crisis.

Patience Nabukalu in Turin © Elena Gogna/LifeGate

Who and what are MAPAs? Why are they so important in the context of the climate crisis?
MAPAs are concentrated in the Global South and are at the front line in tackling climate change. When we talk about droughts, flooding, hunger, famines, soil degradation… Well, MAPAs experience all this firsthand. MAPAs like me suffer in this crisis. I have lived these experiences myself. This is the difference between us and those living in the Global North. And it’s why it’s important that the North listens to our voices.

When you explain all this during meetings and in interviews – like here in Turin, for example – what do you think of the public’s reaction?
I think that the Global North is privileged and needs to learn in more detail what happens outside of it. Every country in the world has its story, as do the people that inhabit these countries. The Global North, however, does not have direct experience of the effects of the climate crisis. In particular, those in charge of making political decisions do not have this experience. The greatest challenge is to make these people understand what climate change actually is. They must listen to our voices because we’re telling a story. Do we depend on the North? Yes, but the North also depends on us, because they extract resources for their economies from the Global South.

Speaking of which, for years you’ve been fighting against EACOP. What is it?
EACOP is the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, a gigantic pipeline being built in West Africa to transport crude oil from Ugandan oilfields to the port of Tanga, in Tanzania, on the Indian Ocean. Over 1,400 kilometres in the heart of Africa: imagine how many natural resources will be destroyed by such a project. And how many families. To be exact, we’re talking about 178 villages in Uganda and 231 in Tanzania. The pipeline works will also prevent children from attending school, local fishermen from fishing, and farmers from working in the fields. Water resources, wetlands, and lakes in the region will also be affected. Once in operation, the pipeline will generate 34 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, six times higher than Uganda’s current yearly emissions.

Who is at the helm of this project?
The pipeline is majority owned by Total (62 per cent), with the rest divided between China’s CNOOC (8 per cent) and the Ugandan and Tanzanian governments (both 15 per cent). Total’s dominant position is a tangible demonstration of how the Global North exploits the South’s resources, setting targets that it will never be able to meet. How can Europe possibly keep the increase in temperatures below 1.5 degrees if it’s setting off these carbon bombs elsewhere, extracting fossil fuels for the sake of profit?


What is your assessment of COP26 in Glasgow? And what are your hopes for the future?
Like I said in more than one interview at the time, COP26 in Glasgow was far from successful. Firstly, we weren’t included in the decision-making process. At this kind of event, the European Union continues to plan how to extract resources and fossil fuels from our lands. I hope that at COP27, in Egypt, the empty promises made so far are given some substance. We’ll see. I have little faith in political leaders, so I place my hopes in myself and the people who, from below, are making their voices heard. If we keep hearing empty speeches without seeing concrete facts, we’ll have to raise our voices even louder.

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