My climate challenge to leaders at COP28: Show you care

Boys move in the temporary nomad camp, as the herd of cattle prepares to leave to seek new suitable pastures, in Lake Chad province, Chad, September 11, 2022. REUTERS/Mahamat Ramadane

Boys move in the temporary nomad camp, as the herd of cattle prepares to leave to seek new suitable pastures, in Lake Chad province, Chad, September 11, 2022. REUTERS/Mahamat Ramadane

Chad’s farmers, fishermen and Indigenous people are suffering the consequences of a high-carbon way of life that is totally alien to us

By Hindou Ibrahim, an award-wining climate activist from Chad and co-chair of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change.

Around its lake, the fifth largest freshwater reservoir on the continent, my home country of Chad is the beating heart of Africa. It is also a vision of the future of humankind if transformative action is not taken at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai. In a harsh environment, at the border of the Sahara Desert and with an economy dependent on agriculture, we are one of the places on the planet that is most vulnerable to climate change. 

We experience droughts, floods that destroy our towns and crops, intense heat waves, the death of cattle, and now dengue, a new disease for us. Our food security, health and water access are at risk. My homeland already faces more than 1.5°C warming, well over the limit determined in the Paris Agreement. Even the smallest rise in global emissions will have catastrophic results on our home.

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That impact will be especially severe for my people, the Mbororo People. We are nomadic cattle herders who for centuries have followed the rain and the rhythm of season. In the dry season, we gather around the lake, and in the rainy season, we lead our cattle from the savannah to the forest, covering thousands of kilometers over Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and Central Africa.

But in a changing climate, this ancestral way of life, one in balance with nature - and each other - is in danger. Lake Chad is shared by pastoralists, farmers, and fishermen. It’s been a source of life to more than 40 million people. Climate change means the rainy season comes later every year and the lake is drying up: it shrank 90% between the 1960s and 1990s. Clashes within our community over fertile land and freshwater access are increasing. Three million people have been forced out of the lands adjoining the lake, looking for a brighter future in one of our cities.

But they offer little respite. While the world is talking of electric vehicles and luxury items, just 4% of our people have access to electricity. Supplies of clean drinking water are extremely limited and when floods hit - as they increasingly do, punctuating the periods of intense drought - they overwhelm the sewage system leading to large-scale contamination. This is the face of climate injustice.

And it is happening on the doorstep of industrialized economies. Imagine telling a Chad farmer whose crops have failed for the successive year or whose cattle will die for lack of water that, on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, across the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean, in Europe, in the USA, and in emerging economies, peoples are still consuming fossil fuel at a rhythm that will bring more droughts, more heatwaves and more disasters. Private jets, large SUVs, electricity overconsumption: we feel the consequences of a way of living that is totally alien to us.

More COP power for Global South and Indigenous voices

So, my challenge to those attending COP28 is - show you care. Prove to us that the life of those who toil on our increasingly fragile soils is as worthy as your own icons of power and status. Prove that you have the courage, the will and the wisdom to deliver a groundbreaking settlement that will rescue humanity from its present course.

That will mean, firstly, that voices from the Global South and Indigenous communities must be given significantly more weight in the negotiations. We protect 80% of the world’s biodiversity. We, Indigenous Peoples, can fix the problems industrialized countries have created. We are leaders, engineers, technicians, experts in the biodiversity of our forests, our savannah and tundra, our coral reefs - all the ecosystems that capture and store the world’s carbon. It’s time for us to lead these negotiations, because, seven years after the Paris Agreement, politicians and CEOs have failed to keep their promises.

Secondly, the targets will have to be ambitious and binding. As well as reiterating the commitment to keep global temperature rise below 1.5C, we need to bind nations to the actions that will help us to reach that goal. This should include binding resolutions on ending deforestation, the use of fossil fuels, pollution of our rivers and oceans, and capping CO2 emissions.

Thirdly, the transition will have to be just. It is an inescapable fact that our condition today is a legacy of actions taken by the West in decades past. Colonialism, war and industrialization have left scars across the face of my country and many others. Present-day governments may not be responsible for all of these legacies but they are responsible for how they respond to them. The North owes the South $7.9 trillion in climate reparations. These need to be paid and our own debt repayments canceled. I am not asking for charity. I am asking for justice.

Lastly, we need to cultivate the skills and wisdom in our global leaders to deliver these commitments. We must recognize that the increasing complexity of the issues leaders face - not just climate but also AI, refugee and food crises, and pandemics - require that they can govern in the interests of all of humanity both present and future. The age of nationalist politics has to end. And so I support the Global Compassion Coalition’s call for the United Nations to initiate a groundbreaking training program to coach world politicians in the skills of compassionate leadership - helping them to sustain the courage to act ethically, no matter the opposition they may face.

Hindou Ibrahim is co-chair of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, president of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT), co-director of the World Indigenous Peoples’ Initiative and Pavilion at COP21, 22, and 23, and an award-winning climate activist. 

Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Context or the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


  • Adaptation
  • Agriculture and farming
  • Loss and damage
  • Indigenous communities

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