Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate on Tuesday criticized world leaders who persist in supporting new fossil fuel projects as other activists held a symbolic protest for environmental and human rights and demanded funding for vulnerable nations suffering the devastating impacts of the climate change.

Countries agreed in the 2015 Paris climate accord to limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century if possible. But scientists say that with about 2.1 Fahrenheit of warming already achieved, that target is likely to be missed, pushing temperatures to dangerous levels.

“Many leaders’ goal is to make deals with fossil fuel lobbyists, survive the next election cycle, and make as much profit as possible in the short term,” Nakate said at a side event of the United Nations climate talks in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

He 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, more destruction and more devastation.”

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

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

This has been undermined by massive government spending on fossil fuel subsidies, in part due to 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,” he said. “You are sowing coal, oil and gas while frontline communities are wreaking havoc, devastation and destruction.”

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

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

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Jochen Flasbarth, a longtime German climate negotiator, said Nakate was right to stress the urgency of tackling climate change, but questioned his criticism of politicians concerned about the election.

“You may be right that politicians sometimes have a short-term view, but (should) still make the most of this election,” he said, adding that “it is young people who increasingly have not gone to elections in the last decade” in many democratic nations.

Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate attends an event with young activists from developed countries at the COP27 United Nations Climate Summit on November 14, 2022 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
(AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Flasbarth told Nakate that young people “need to partner” 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 termed restrictions and crackdowns on human rights and environmental defenders.

Organized by the Fridays for Future movement, the short demonstration took place in the officially designated protest area under tight security conditions. The organizers said they had received the required permission from the Egyptian authorities but refused to speak to the media at the protest site saying they did not want to legitimize it.

They said the symbolic protest was aimed at showing “restrictions on civil society and protest” at this year’s conference.

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“We are protesting on behalf of and in solidarity with all those who cannot raise their voices, we are here to demand the release of those who have been silenced,” activist Luisa Neubauer said in a speech.

Protests at this year’s conference have so far been largely confined to the ‘blue zone’, which is considered a United Nations territory.

Climate activists have repeatedly complained that restrictions and expensive accommodations have deterred large protests this year, in stark contrast to large demonstrations in previous years. Last year’s COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland saw around 100,000 people march through the streets in a demonstration and protesters often gathered in public squares and parks.

Street protests are virtually banned in Egypt, but the government has set up a designated area outside the negotiating venue for demonstrations.

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Activists also called for the establishment of a new body responsible for climate-related losses and damages to develop funding for nations vulnerable to global warming.

The demonstrations come as negotiators at the conference haggle over several thorny issues, including ramping up efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and provide more financial aid to poor nations.

Ministers began arriving in Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday to provide impetus for the meeting to conclude a substantive deal by the end of Friday’s schedule.

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