Vanessa Nakaté - Ugandan environmental activist

Vanessa Nakaté - Ugandan environmental activist

Vanessa Nakate is a Ugandan environmental climate activist. She grew up in Kampala, graduated from Makerere University with a Bachelor's degree in Marketing Business Administration, and became involved with environmentalism in 2018, then only 20 years old, after becoming aware of the abnormally high temperatures in her country.

"When you go to northern Uganda, people cry because of long periods of drought, when you go to the east of the country, people cry because of landslides, and when you go to the west, people cry because of floods."

African countries, according to UN figures, are responsible for only 3% of greenhouse gas emissions. Yet they are the first to suffer the many effects of climate disruption, and it is precisely against this terrible and unfair inequality that Nakate wants to fight, hoping to carry the claims of African people and offer a better representation of the countries of the South in the climate discussions.

In January 2019, inspired by Greta Thunberg to start her own climate movement in Uganda, Nakate began a school strike, called "Fridays For Future," to go and demonstrate in front of the Ugandan Parliament every Friday against inaction on the climate crisis. For several months, she was the only protester outside the gates of Parliament, before other young people finally began to respond to her calls on social media for others to help draw attention to the plight of the Congolese rainforests.

That same year, in an interview with Amy Goodman for Democracy Now!, Nakate expressed his motivation for advocating for climate action:"My country heavily depends on agriculture, therefore most of the people depend on agriculture. So, if our farms are destroyed by floods, if the farms are destroyed by droughts and crop production is less, that means that the price of food is going to go high. So it will only be the most privileged who will be able to buy food. And they are the biggest emitters in our countries, the ones who will be able to survive the crisis of food, whereas most of the people who live in villages and rural communities, they have trouble getting food because of the high prices. And this leads to starvation and death. Literally, in my county, a lack of rain means starvation and death for the less privileged".

She founds Youth for Future Africa and the Rise Up movement, both based in Africa, and speaks at the COP25 rally in Spain, alongside youth climate activists Greta Thunberg and Alejandro Martínez.

In early 2020, she joins about 20 other young climate activists from around the world to publish a letter to participants at the World Economic Forum in Davos, calling on corporations, banks and governments to immediately stop subsidizing fossil fuels. Along with four other international delegates invited by Arctic Basecamp, she camped in Davos during the World Economic Forum and joined a climate march on the last day of the Forum.

That same year, she was interviewed by Angelina Jolie for a Time magazine show about the power and importance of African voices in the climate justice movement. In August 2020, she joins former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the Alpbach Forum to discuss climate activism, and is named one of the 100 most influential Africans by Jeune Afrique magazine.

In September 2020, Vanessa participates in a roundtable discussion titled "Sparking an Era of Transformational Climate Leadership" for the World Resources Institute, speaks her mind in "Conversations with Climate Changers" for Oxfam, and is named an MDG 13 Young Leader by the United Nations.

She is also named one of the 100 Women of OkayAfrica, an exclusive platform that honors 100 women of excellence from the diaspora (the dispersion of an ethnic community or people across the globe) during Women's History Month, and was named one of the Most Influential Young Africans in 2020 by YouthLead.

One month before COP26, during a summit organized by the UN in Milan for 400 young people from all over the world, she gave a speech in which she emphasized that the 100 billion in annual climate aid promised to vulnerable countries had not been paid out, and added that "the loss and damage are among us now, we must put them at the center of the negotiations.

At COP26 in Glasgow, it is alongside Greta Thunberg and Dominika Lasota that she hopes to meet directly with several dozen governments to urge them to keep the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

In November 2021, she publishes a free-manifesto entitled An Ecology Without Borders to alert on the climate emergency while making Africa's voice heard on this sensitive subject.


In late 2020, Nakate delivers a speech at the Desmond Tutu International Peace Conference, urging world leaders to "wake up" and recognize climate change as a crisis, linking it to poverty, hunger, disease, conflict and violence against women and girls. "Climate change is a nightmare that affects every sector of our lives. How can we eradicate poverty without addressing this crisis? How can we eradicate hunger if climate change leaves millions of people with nothing to eat? We are going to see one disaster after another, one challenge after another, one suffering after another [...] if nothing is done about it." She also called on leaders to "get out of their comfort zones, see the danger we are in, and do something about it. It's a matter of life and death."

Nakate is also launching the Vash Green Schools Project, a renewable energy initiative to transition Ugandan schools to solar power and install green stoves. To date, the project has completed installations in 30 schools.

In 2021, she was a keynote speaker at the 2021 Energy Transition Dialogue in Berlin, along with other top world leaders. There, she notably criticized the German Federal Foreign Office, as organizer, for filtering the contributions of young climate activists, which was not the case for the other invited speakers.

In the same year, she writes in The Guardian magazine, arguing that countries and companies largely responsible for greenhouse gas emissions should compensate African countries and communities for the losses and damages from climate change they are currently experiencing.

In October 2021, she published her biography, A bigger picture: my fight to bring a new African voice to the climate crisis.

A goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, a board member of Progressive International (an international organization that promotes progressive left-wing politics), and a young black woman, she is a strong critic of capitalism, which she links to environmental degradation, and emphasizes the links between climate and social justice. "There is an intersection between environmental and social issues, because the effects of climate change are pushing people into extreme poverty, destroying family livelihoods, and forcing children out of school. There is an intersection with racial issues as blacks and people of color are more exposed to air and water pollution, and indigenous communities are victims of corporate greed. There is an intersection with gender inequality, as women and girls are the primary victims of climate change."

For her, climate change only exacerbates inequalities already present in society. To remedy this crisis, she calls for the participation of all, because everyone can contribute to change, and insists in particular on the place of women in the fight. "I believe that women have a great role to play in climate leadership."

In recognition of her citizen diplomacy in bringing her generation's voice to global environmental campaigns, and for her inspiring climate activism in Uganda and beyond, Nakate was awarded the Haub law environmental 2021 award.

She was also one of seven young activists honored by the 2020 Young Activists Summit, a live discussion on the post-COVID-19 world attended by more than 8,600 people from 100 countries.

She was featured on the BBC's 100 Women list (November 23, 2020), Time100 Next list published by Time magazine in February 2021, and was featured on the cover of Time magazine's November 8-15, 2021 edition.

In 2022, she received the inaugural Helmut-Schmidt-Future-Prize for her courageous, innovative and responsible actions for the global common good and climate justice.

Now considered one of the most prominent figures in the fight for climate justice, a fixture at global meetings and a frequent recipient of awards for her activism, Vanessa Nakate keeps repeating that she is just one voice in a global movement of millions of committed and determined people. However, at only 25 years old, she is undeniably one of the faces of the Equality Generation, committed to climate and social justice, and is the voice of forgotten countries and populations.

Article by Julie Poutrel for Adama Toulon. 

Photo: Vanessa Nakate, Nicola Sturgeon and Elizabeth Wathyti. - © Scottish Government - CC BY 2.0