The COP27 UN Climate Conference is just days away, and Africa’s young activists are still struggling to get access to what is one of the biggest moments in the climate activism calendar this year. For many, it’s a red flag about the kind of conference we can expect to see — in short, limited voices, and limited action.  

It’s definitely not the first time the Global South has been cut out of climate change conversations with the narrative being consistently dominated by those in the Global North (in fact, there was similar outcry around last year’s COP26). But with COP27 this year being hosted on the African continent — in Egypt, from Nov. 6-18 —  activists were more optimistic that African voices would be center stage. 

“When they announced COP27 was going to be held in Africa, everyone was happy,” explains Ugandan climate activist Nyombi Morris. “We thought, ‘we are an innocent continent.’ We didn’t know that Egypt call themselves Europeans. There is colonialism there. But they are from Africa.”

The limited number of activists who will be in attendance from around the world will have to adhere to the laws of the Egyptian government, which actively dampen the right to protest, and suppress access to civic action — it’s worth noting that the government has given its word that protest will be permitted, however activists are still skeptical of potential conditions

COP27 is kicking off this week and, according to the Guardian, the conference will likely be lacking young activist representation from host country, Egypt, as well as others across the continent including Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Tanzania, Morocco, Chad, South Africa, Benin, and Somalia — as none of those countries’ young activists have yet been able to secure a spot at COP27. 

Climate activism is key to a successful COP, as activists can represent the impact that climate change is having on vulnerable communities, while also holding world leaders accountable — urging them to commit to newer and greater climate action, while also delivering on previous promises. 

Africa, as the continent most affected by the climate crisis (despite having contributed the least to it), should have one of the loudest voices at COP through its young activists, however, with the number of activists who can’t even get their foot through the door, many are becoming disheartened.

The fact that rights organisations and activists on the ground in Egypt are being denied accreditation to COP27 highlights a very real limitation of the civic space around the conference, and climate action more broadly. With a COP not having been held on the African continent since Morocco in 2016, much more needs to be done to ensure African activists get the stage they deserve. 

We spoke with six young climate activists from across Africa, to find out more about the obstacles they’re facing on the road to COP27, and why their presence matters. 

Why is it important that you and other African activists get to COP27?

Nyombi Morris, Uganda

"If we don’t go, who will go? If a government representative goes, they go with their own demands, we can’t trust them. Even our communities will be so happy to see us speaking. Sometimes they use us to make sure their voices are heard. We have to share our solutions that need to be implemented. We need to share our actions to see if they can be replicated. To see if we can be supported with finance.”

Yero Sarr, Senegal

“It would be out of the question for such crucial issues to be discussed without the involvement of the main victims of this phenomenon, which is responsible for the industrialised countries and their excessive policies of development.”

Goodness Dickson, Nigeria

“This year’s conference in Egypt is said to be an “African COP” and it takes place at a pivotal moment for global climate action, as world leaders will meet and discuss the path forward to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Africa is suffering the most from the climate crisis despite contributing less than 4% of global carbon emissions. We have to get to COP27 and be a voice for millions of people in our communities and countries in order to seek for climate justice at the conference.” 

Sibongile Khumalo, South Africa

“By now it is, and should be, common knowledge that Africa is the most vulnerable region to the effects of climate change, despite only contributing to less than 4% of global greenhouse gasses. This is the most fundamental reason why a greater number of African climate change, environmental, and intersectional activists must be present at COP27. This is not just because Africa bears the brunt of climate change, but because evidently, Africa has some solutions available.”

Remy Zahiga, DRC

“We as African activists should be at the COP27 because our continent is a victim of a crime that it never created… Africa has the solution to the climate crisis. For example, I am from the Congo rainforest, which is the world's second lungs (after the Amazon). I would like to be at the COP to make polluting countries pay for loss and damage now and for the destruction of the planet, it's very urgent. I would also bring to light the voice of the Indigenous people of the Congo rainforest that are driven out from their ancestral lands due to mining, illegal logging, palm oil corporations, and more. As African activists, we should unite our voices to demand for climate justice for our continent and respective communities."

What Was Your Experience of Trying to Secure Accreditation, Funding, and the Visa System for COP27? 

Nyombi Morris, Uganda

When the accreditations were released, local organisations said they received very few. The first challenge was to identify who has accreditation, and none of them was supporting. I decided to give up. I applied through links and no one was helping me. I got my first accreditation just last month by chance. I have to be there. 

When I mentioned COP27 on LinkedIn, someone who works closely with our ministry of water and sanitation, where accreditation is given, reached out and asked what week I needed, then he went ahead and requested the ministry, which refused because they are afraid we will expose our government if we sit at the table. They had promised me accreditation until a few days ago. I made the decision to abandon them.

Then when you are done with accreditation, there is another barrier — where are you going to get the funding? They can put accommodation at US$200 per night. You end up falling into taxes. But when you have to pay that, you discover that there is another tax that you have to pay. You end up paying even more. It has been shocking to everyone booking accommodation in Egypt. How is this possible? When you come to flights, every day there is a new price on flights. 

"Again, funding is complicated. I was given a fellowship studying about climate justice. They promised to sponsor my trip to COP27 but four days ago they said they couldn’t sponsor my trip because they needed me to get an accreditation that allowed me to be in the negotiations themselves, which I can only get from governments. If mine can’t give it to me, who will? The exclusion starts from getting accredited to getting funding."

Remy Zahiga, DRC

“Getting on the road to COP is very stressful. I was applying to every link for the support, and maybe some of these links were fake, with no answers. I am part of social media groups to unite youth around the world that aim to be at COP. I applied and applied, unfortunately to secure everything was quite stressful and I know that so many people are still struggling to be at COP.

"I am still waiting for my visa. The problem is that so many African countries can't apply online for Egypt and someone should be physically at the embassy. For example, I live 2,000 km (over 1,200 miles) away from the capital city where the Egyptian embassy is located. I should take a local airplane to be there. It's very stressful and many supporters are not willing to support local flights.” 

What do you think the barriers you've faced trying to attend COP27 say about the summit?

Winnie Cheche, Kenya

“I would really love to hold on faith in humanity and our leaders, and still hope that this summit finally gives birth to the change we need. Sadly, all odds seem to be pointing to more doom. We have been pushing for people and the planet over profits, but it’s the profits over people and the planet that have been thriving.”

Goodness Dickson, Nigeria

“The situation I and other African activists have faced trying to attend COP27 shows that we will not be represented and communities who are mostly affected by the climate crisis will not get climate justice. COP should not be a ceremonial event where we all gather every year to meet, greet, and take pictures, but rather it should be one where key decisions that affect the people are considered and implemented. We don’t need promises but action this time around.”

Sibongile Khumalo, South Africa

“In my view, much of the bureaucratic processes employed by the summit make it inaccessible to many activists who can add value to the conversations. I think there is a lot of opportunity for the summit to be more inclusive, but these opportunities are not being explored.”

What do you fear won’t happen if you are unable to attend?

Nyombi Morris, Uganda

“I’m worried that many people are going to be displaced because of the delay in climate action. But also because of the delay in approving the loss and damage funds. These people are not made to be in camps. There is no way, for someone who has had land. 

"How are they going to survive if we don't approve loss and damage funds now? That’s my question. We are putting stress on the government to invest in recovery, because in the end, these governments are bringing in billions. For years and years, they have been given money in borrowing (for climate adaptation and action). But they are failing to act on climate reparation. 

"If I don't go there to demand to stop this so-called greenwashing, it is going to be worse in 2023. This time we saw millions, maybe next time we will see billions. Over 30 million people were displaced in Pakistan — what says it won’t be billions next year?”

What would you be talking about if you were going?

Yero Sarr, Senegal

“I would evoke the concerns which hold me with heart. Namely the correlation between climate change, the proliferation of terrorism in the Sahel, local and international immigration, and famine. In a way, the points that will soon appear in my first book, Climate Change in the Heart of the Sahel. I would also emphasise the importance and urgency of acting by putting the human at the heart of our concerns.”

Sibongile Khumalo, South Africa

“If I were to attend, I would very ambitiously want to discuss decolonising the global economy. This, I believe, would be the most straightforward way to achieve our collective goal. What we have at hand is a solution that requires robust transformation. We cannot achieve this by the same development trajectory that has put us in this crisis. The world very simply needs to change, and it will not change if we maintain to the same development theories and practices."

"My talking point would be decolonisation of the entire economic system and the urgency at which this should happen. For that to occur in the strongest way possible, we would need more inclusion of Indigenous thinkers and activists.”

Winnie Cheche, Kenya

“Loss and damage financing should not be ignored, or worse, added to the empty promises. The consequences can be seen by everyone. Its beyond adaptation and mitigation, people’s lives and that of other species are on the line. We don’t have any more years to wait on this one, we are already losing. Our communities have been pushed as far as they can go. Floods and droughts have succeeded to create a pattern that hasn’t allowed any recoveries so far.

"Climate finance needs to be honoured in this COP. COP26 broke our hearts, despite all the signs and calls by different leaders. It fell into the empty promises. This time round, we need to do better. There have been a number of climate change-related disasters experienced in different nations, it's my hope that this time our leaders get to acknowledge that honouring climate finance is the human thing to do.”

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