Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate slammed world leaders Tuesday who persist in backing new fossil fuel projects as other activists held a symbolic human and environmental rights protest and called for financing for vulnerable nations suffering devastating impacts of climate change.
Countries agreed in the 2015 Paris climate accord to limit global warming to 2.7 Fahrenheit by the end of the century if possible. But scientists say that with about 2.1 Fahrenheit of warming already reached, that target is likely to be missed, pushing temperatures to dangerous highs.
“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.”
Later Tuesday, a handful of climate activists gathered outside the conference venue in a symbolic protest to highlight what they said was restrictions and clampdowns on environmental and human rights defenders.
Organized by the Fridays for Future Movement, the brief demonstration took place in the official designated protest area amid tight security. Organizers said they received the required permission from the Egyptian authorities, but they declined to speak to media at the protest venue saying they didn’t want to legitimize it.
They said the symbolic protest aimed to showcase “restrictions on civil society and protest” at this year’s conference.
“We are protesting on behalf of and in solidarity with all those who can’t raise their voices, we are here demanding the liberation of those who have been silenced,” said activist Luisa Neubauer in a speech.
Protests at this year’s conference have so far been broadly limited to the ‘Blue Zone,’ which is considered a U.N. territory.
Climate activists have repeatedly complained that restrictions and costly accommodation has discouraged large protests this year, in a stark contrast to previous years that featured large demonstrations. Last year’s COP26 in Glasgow in Scotland, saw some 100,000 people marching through the streets in one rally and protesters frequently gathered in public squares and parks.
Street protests are virtually banned in Egypt, but the government set up a designated area outside the negotiating venue for demonstrations.
Activists also called for the establishment of a new body to be in charge of climate-related loss and damage for developing funding for nations vulnerable to global warming.
The demonstrations come as 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.