Leading Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate on Wednesday said climate change presents world leaders with “life or death” choices, pressing them to treat it as an urgent crisis.

“Climate change is a nightmare that affects every sector of our lives,” said Nakate, naming hunger, conflicts, child marriages and violence against women as some of the crisis’ knock-on effects.

“It is time for leaders to leave their comfort zones and see the danger that we are in and do something about it,” she told attendees of an online lecture to mark the 89th birthday of South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize winner and retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Vanessa Nakate, a climate change activist from Uganda, speaks through a webcam during a joint press conference with other activists from the #FridaysForFuture movement, in Kampala on January 31, 2020. Image credit: ISAAC KASAMANI / AFP

“This is a matter of life and death,” she warned. “We are showing you the direction that two choices present to you today: life and death”.

She implored leaders to “choose life for the people… for the planet”.

Nakate’s activist role received a paradoxical boost earlier this year when she was cropped out of a news photo of young campaigners including Sweden’s Greta Thunberg at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

An uproar ensued because the 23-year-old had been the only black person and only African in the picture.

Ayakha Mlithafa, an 18-year-old South African campaigner, said Wednesday that Nakate’s removal from the picture had stoked her “drive to advocate for more inclusion and diversity into the climate movement.”

Top Zimbabwean businessman and philanthropist Strive Masiyiwa said young activists “mirror” Tutu.

The clergyman is still regarded as South Africa’s moral beacon for standing against apartheid, using his influence to mobilise against white minority rule including advocating for international sanctions.

Seen from today’s viewpoint, the campaigners’ task might appear “impossible” — just like Tutu’s long struggle of “midwifing a nation, South Africa through apartheid and into reconciliation,” Masiyiwa said.



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