Climate activist blasts leaders holding onto fossil projects

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) — Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate slammed world leaders Tuesday who persist in backing new fossil fuel projects despite science warnings that this will push temperatures across the planet to dangerous highs.

Countries agreed in the 2015 Paris climate accord to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century if possible. But scientists say that with about 1.2 Celsius (21. Fahrenheit) of warming already reached, that target is likely to be missed.

“The focus for many leaders is about making deals for fossil fuel lobbyists, surviving the next election cycle and grabbing as much short-term profit as possible,” Nakate said at an event on the sidelines of the U.N. climate talks in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

She warned that the annual meeting is being infiltrated by oil and gas representatives who are turning it into “a sales and marketing conference for more pollution and more destruction and more devastation.”

Environmental groups have counted more than 600 delegates with links to the fossil fuel industry at the two-week meeting.

Nakate cited research from the International Energy Agency stating that there can be no new investment in coal, oil or gas if the world is to stay below 1.5 C.

This was being undermined by massive public spending on fossil fuel subsidies, partly as a result of the fallout from Russia’s attack on Ukraine which has triggered a scramble for alternative sources of oil and gas.

“You are sowing the wind and frontline communities are reaping the whirlwind,” she said. “You are sowing seeds of coal, oil and gas while frontline communities are reaping havoc, devastation and destruction.”

Many developing nations are disproportionately impacted by climate change as they are less able to adapt to extreme weather exacerbated by global warming.

Nakate called out those countries that have issued new licenses for oil and gas exploitation in their territorial waters, or promised investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure in Africa.

Jochen Flasbarth, a long-time German climate negotiator, said Nakate was right to highlight the urgency of tackling climate change but questioned her criticism of politicians concerned about elections.

“You might be right that politicians sometimes have a short-term view, but (you should) still make the best out of these elections,” he said, adding that “it is young people who increasingly did not go to elections over the last ten years” in many democratic nations.

Flasbarth told Nakate that young people “need to collaborate” with democratic processes to help “strengthen democracy around the world.”

Nakate’s speech comes as climate activists are protesting outside the conference venue.

Organized by the Fridays For Future Movement, the rally is taking place in the official designated protest area after organizers received the required permission from the Egyptian authorities. Organizers said they aim to showcase “restrictions on civil society and protest” at this year’s conference.

Protests have so far been broadly limited to the ‘Blue Zone,’ which is considered a U.N. territory.

Rights and climate groups have in recent months complained about restrictions and costly accommodation that discouraged protests at this year’s conference, in a stark contrast to previous years that featured large demonstrations.

There were also concerns that the Egyptian government could crack down despite promising to allow protests in a designated venue. Street protests are virtually banned in Egypt.

Meanwhile, negotiators at the conference haggle over numerous thorny issues including increasing efforts to cut greenhouse gases and providing more financial help to poor nations.

Ministers began arriving in Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday to provide a push for the meeting to clinch a substantial deal by its schedule close on Friday.

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