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Frontline Climate Activists Vanessa Nakate and Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner Urge Global Action in Glasgow

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Saturday’s massive climate rally outside of the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow was led by Indigenous frontline activists. We hear from Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner, a poet and climate change activist from the Marshall Islands, and Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate. “We did nothing to contribute to this crisis, and we should not have to pay the consequences,” said Jetn̄il-Kijiner. “We will survive climate change. We refuse to leave. We refuse to go anywhere. And our sovereignty is not up for debate.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday, the COP26 Coalition organized another major protest in Glasgow as part of the day of global action. This is 24-year-old Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate.

VANESSA NAKATE: In 2019, I started a project that involves the installation of solar panels and eco-friendly stoves in schools in Uganda. And we have so far done installations in 13 schools. It has been beautiful seeing these schools finally have light and the excitement of the students and the teachers at the end of the installations. It has always been pure joy, and I’m so thankful to everyone supporting this project.

However, last evening, I received a message from the head teacher from one of the schools, and it read, “Good evening, Vanessa. Thanks for everything. And Butega Primary School, the heavy storm came and destroyed the roofing of our school. We don’t know what next.” My heart froze.

And then he started to send pictures, and I could see the roofs of the classrooms, the iron sheets destroyed, and around six children standing in front of the classroom without the roof, and the head teacher holding the once-installed solar panel. Some of the crops from the school farm were also on the ground. It was so devastating to see.

And then the head teacher sent me an audio, and some of the hurtful words and striking words he told me were: “We are here in an outcry, as you can see. Yesterday we had a very strong storm because of the rain. It came when it was so heavy. It has destroyed everything. It has destroyed our crops. The school roofs and our solar, which you provided, was also put down. We are trying to fix it, but things are not easy. We were so worried about the panel, but I think it was not destroyed. We shall test it and see if it is still working. But all the wires and the bulbs were destroyed.”

I need someone to tell me how to explain to the head teacher that the strong winds and the heavy rainfall will not stop, because the words and promises of leaders do not match their actions. And this is just one example. Just one. Many schools are being destroyed because of extreme weather events.

I need someone to tell me how to explain to farmers who are losing their crops and farms because of droughts and floods that seem to never end, and leaders continue to open up new coal power plants, construct oil pipelines and frack gas, without paying attention and listening to the voices crying out for help because of the destruction that is happening, that leaders have failed to understand that we cannot eat coal, we cannot drink oil, and we cannot breathe so-called natural gas.

Is there anyone among you who can help me explain to girls dropping out of schools, girls being forced into early marriages, women walking long distances to collect water and find food for their families, that the decisions being made by governments right now are only going to increase the challenges that they are facing?

AMY GOODMAN: Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate speaking at the climate rally in Glasgow Saturday. Other speaker included Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner, the poet and climate activist from the Marshall Islands.

KATHY JETN̄IL-KIJINER: Io̧kwe kom̧ aolep. Io̧kwe. Hello, everybody! I traveled all the way out from my home, the Marshall Islands, so that I can be here with you all today to join the call for climate justice and climate action. And I’m grateful and humbled to be given this platform to speak.

The Marshall Islands is located in the northern Pacific Ocean. We are an atoll nation only two meters above sea level, with no mountains like some of the bigger islands, no mountains or higher ground to go to. Some people here will tell you that our very existence is at stake. And up to this COP, I would have said the same thing. With the rising sea level, even half a meter of sea level rise will result in water flooding our islands, and our islands will become unlivable in 20 years. We would just need two-story walls around our entire islands just to keep the water out. So the physical existence of our islands is what’s at stake.

That’s why I flew all the way here, over multiple planes for over 18 hours. That’s why I flew for the first time in two years, since the pandemic began. I haven’t left my islands for two years, since our borders closed during the start of COVID, but I knew the only reason I’d leave is to make sure our message gets here.

CROWD: [cheering]

KATHY JETN̄IL-KIJINER: Thank you. Jesus.

And my message is this: We, as a people, are not going anywhere. We survived three eras of colonialism. We survived over 60 nuclear weapons detonated in our islands during the U.S. nuclear weapons testing program. And let me tell you: We will survive climate change. We refuse to leave. We refuse to go anywhere. And our sovereignty is not up for debate.

But we do need collective action. We need the biggest emitters to be held accountable. We need financing to implement the solutions we’re developing ourselves. We contribute .00005% of the world’s global emissions. We did nothing to contribute to this crisis, and we should not have to pay the consequences.

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner, the poet and climate activist from the Marshall Islands, speaking at a climate rally in Glasgow Saturday. Visit to see our past interviews with Kathy, as well as her reading her poetry, and also the interview with Kathy and her mother, the former president of the Marshall Islands, as well as our interviews with Vanessa Nakate and Greta Thunberg at past U.N. climate summits.

When we come back, 1,000 land and environmental defenders have been killed since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015. Stay with us.

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