Vanessa Nakate, Speaking for Leery Climate Activists, Offers a Challenge: ‘Prove Us Wrong.’

GLASGOW — Vanessa Nakate, a climate activist from Uganda, told the United Nations climate summit on Thursday that she and her peers did not believe the pledges that ministers, corporations and banks made this week to move aggressively on climate change.

But they want to.

“I’m actually here to beg you to prove us wrong,” Ms. Nakate said. “God help us all if you fail to prove us wrong.”

In one of the most powerful speeches to date before the U.N. climate summit, Ms. Nakate, 24, told diplomats that leaders already are trying to brand the conference, known as COP26, a success, but that she and her peers weren’t buying it.

“Let us be honest,” she said. “We have been here before.”

After a quarter of a century of climate conferences and new annual commitments, planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. “This year will be no different,” Ms. Nakate said.

“We are drowning in promises,” she said.

“Commitments,” Ms. Nakate said, “will not reduce CO2. Promises will not stop the suffering of the people. Pledges will not stop the planet from warming. Only immediate and drastic action will pull us back from the abyss.”

She called out business leaders and investors, saying they had not taken immediate action but instead were “flying into COP on private jets” and “making fancy speeches.” She also questioned the presence of those in the fossil fuel industry.

“I hope you can appreciate that we may be skeptical when the largest delegation here at the COP26 climate summit does not belong to a country,” she said, “but instead belongs to the fossil fuel industry.”

And she had a message for those bearing promises: “Show us your trustworthiness. Show us your honesty. I am here to say: Prove us wrong.”

Ms. Nakate, a rising star among the world’s climate activists, received sustained applause after her speech. She first drew widespread attention in January 2020 when The Associated Press cropped her out of a picture at the World Economic Forum. She had been standing next to four white activists, including the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.

The omission shocked and saddened Ms. Nakate, who in a tearful 10-minute video posted on Twitter denounced the “racism” in the global environmental movement and the erasure of Black and African voices. Her response reverberated around the world and solidified her place as a leading voice among young Africans passionately arguing for action against climate change.