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Amujae Leader Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr: Future climate action must take most vulnerable into account

With climate negotiations taking place in Africa in 2022, it is imperative to rally global support for those who are worst affected by climate change across the continent.

 Taking part in a high-level panel discussion at Generation Green—an event organized by Project Syndicate—Amujae Leader Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone weighed in on the outcomes of last year’s COP26 in Glasgow and on the challenges that lay ahead, particularly those affecting the African continent.

The event brought together leaders, experts, and activists, including former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) and Member of the Elders, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, and Chief Scientist at The Nature Conservancy, Katharine Hayhoe. The event was moderated by BBC Correspondent, Dharshini David.

Ms. Aki-Sawyerr offered a critical assessment of the approach to the negotiations within the COP26 group, saying that the pressure, the sense of urgency, and the dynamism that exist in communities of climate-conscious individuals around the world should permeate “the COP26 bubble.”

“Our challenge now… is to ensure that we break that bubble through voting because that is the beginning of making sure that those in the room feel the impact when it comes to their governance in their nation-states.”

Asked about the reaction in Freetown to the decisions during COP26, Ms. Aki-Sawyerr said the climate summit had attracted interest from the city’s residents. She noted that she participated in talks at the summit as a representative of C40 Cities and that she had highlighted her city’s commitment to planting one million trees by 2022—through the ‘Freetown the Tree Town’ campaign.

She added that the conversations that took place at the highest levels at COP26 “don’t seem to be quite hitting the point,” given the urgency of climate action, interventions, and policy changes that are needed on the ground:

“This is what is being said by civil society, by women’s groups, by youth movements, and indeed by cities.” 

She also made a powerful call to arms in her intervention at the panel discussion to engage those who deny the scientific evidence on climate change, and to rally support for further global action:

“I believe we’ve got the physical evidence, our own lived experience, whether it’s the fires, whether it’s the floods, whether it’s the melting ice. We are seeing it. And we need maybe a very powerful role for when we really talk about who’s going to help us change that temperature in the negotiating room by 2027. Maybe the media is going to be a really big part of that push.”

Looking ahead to COP27, which will be held on the African continent, Ms. Aki-Sawyerr called on world leaders to support African countries in warding off the immediate impact of rising temperatures, particularly on food security. She stressed the need for a just green transition where countries “that represent 80% of world emissions,” namely the G20 countries, bear proportional responsibility for the impacts of climate change. 

She also agreed with the other panelists on the need to improve how climate summits function and ramp up accountability for the commitments made by participating nations:

“We really need to move that one step further. Not just the nice commitments, the nationally determined contributions, which no one can actually hold anyone to. We must go into COP27 with accountability.” 

To watch the full discussion click here: https://youtu.be/NsH4LQRaBqE  

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