"We Need to Focus and Embrace our Similarities"


Hilda Flavia Nakabuye is a climate, gender and environmental rights activist, public speaker, writer and Founder of Fridays For Future - Uganda. She explains how climate justice necessarily means social justice.

Portrait of Nakabuye Hilda Flavia

This interview is part of our Living Within Our Means Series.

Overshoot Day, the day on which we as a whole global community have used more resources than the earth can regenerate in a year, moves forward every year, highlighting the acceleration and convergence of multiple crises, including in particular the climate and biodiversity emergency. This year it is on July 28, 2022. Please tell us about 1-2 topics/processes/initiatives that you are currently supporting in your professional context and which you feel are absolutely critical in the context of reaching more sustainable growth paths.

One of the topics is Climate and Gender Justice, with a sub-topic of Fossils Fuels.

As the world is looking to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, multinational corporations are lobbying for finance to open up new oil and gas sources, even after the release of the IPCC report that clearly elaborates how we are headed towards to extinction if we don't reduce Global emissions and stay below 1.5° C. With this, I focus on the East African crude oil pipeline (EACOP) which will be 1445 km long, the world's longest heated crude oil pipeline, operated by French company Total Energies. Itpasses through my village, producing over 34 million metric tonnes of carbon. Not to mention that one third of this pipeline is passing through the Lake Victoria basin, Africa's biggest freshwater body, which is a source of livelihood for over 40 million people. I also lead a lake clean-up activity on Lake Victoria, climate awareness and education in schools and universities, tree plantings to celebrate events like birthdays, projects such as Young Ugandan Voices for COP26, empowering young women to participate in climate negotiations.

This project is one of the many that supports our effort to limit global emissions and have a chance to stay alive. If at 1.2° C, countries like mine in the Global South are suffering untold environmental challenges, then how about a 0.3 increase?

I believe there are more sustainable pathways we can take to grow our energy sector, for instance, if investments are geared towards renewable energy, like solar power, because a continent like Africa receives free sunlight throughout the year.

We need and must reduce global emissions and that starts with shutting down all sources of GHG, so we must keep fossil fuels in the ground.

What role do equity, human rights and gender equality play in these processes/initiatives? What role should they play?

We want to achieve Climate Justice, but we can't do that without addressing these social challenges because they are connected. This starts with dismantling systems of injustice and oppression because the same system that caused the climate crisis cannot bring us out of it. Achieving Climate Justice is achieving Social Justice. And Social Justice entails equity, human rights, and gender equality, among others.

Furthermore, we can't achieve Climate Justice with half of the population left on the sidelines. This is a challenge that affects each and every one of us and we must fight it together.

In this day and age, no one can really claim ignorance about what actions are sustainable or harmful in terms of the preservation of life on Earth. So, it seems we really don't have a knowledge problem but an action problem. If you could implement 1-3 key reforms to drive more action for sustainability in your sphere of influence, which ones would you focus on and which alliances would be important to achieve them?

The topic of climate change has touched our lives even more than we think, to the extent that it has become a boring topic for many, especially decision makers.

What needs to be done to save us from this climate catastrophe is clearly known, but not supported by political will to put it into action.

They keep asking scientists and activists what needs to be done to combat climate change, as if they didn't know, and even after we tell them, they still wrap their hands and warm their seats instead of standing up to take the urgently necessary concrete actions.

This is why I believe and focus on the people, the masses. I believe that the power of the people is stronger and greater than the people in power.

Without individual resilience, it is difficult to advocate effectively and sustainably for greater global resilience. Many sustainability advocates put their service for the collective good over their own well-being, among them a disproportionate number of women who are still facing the primary care-burden in both their personal as well as professional lives. What helps you to maintain and strengthen your mental and physical power?

This is a question that I find puzzling sometimes because I too haven't discovered the concrete remedy, but I like to give myself time to refresh. This can be talking to friends in the climate movement, spending some time with family, or reading some books, among other things.

If you had to tell a first grader today why it is important to continue working for an ecologically, socially and gender-just transformation in the face of all the enormous challenges, what would you say and what skills would you recommend?

I would first ask them, “Do you want to live happily with your mum and dad?” Obviously they would say yes, and I would ask them if they are willing to save their parents’ lives if they were being attacked?

I would tell them we are facing humanity's biggest challenge, which is going to wipe our entire species from the face of the world, but we can solve the challenge if we act urgently, stand up, speak up and work together to resolve it.

Please tell us about one book or idea that has recently inspired you.

I'm inspired by the idea of not having a single side of the story because it overlooks the many other beautiful stories that are not given a chance.

The idea of emphasizing our similarities rather than our differences. We have seen a system that emphasizes our differences during colonialism and it clearly didn't work, we need to focus and embrace our similarities. We need love to heal the world.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.