Opening Keynote Speech by Elizabeth Wathuti at the Climate and Clean Air Conference 2024, UNEA6, Nairobi, Kenya

Excellencies, esteemed delegates, ladies and Gentlemen. Good morning. My name is Elizabeth Wathuti and I am an environmentalist, global climate champion and Founder of Green Generation Initiative. I also serve as a Commissioner at the Global Commission on the economics of water and a commissioner in the Nairobi Rivers Commission representing civil society and youth. 

I am deeply honored to speak at the Climate and Clean Air Conference, taking place within the auspices of UNEA6, right here in Nairobi—my hometown and country. Gathering for the Climate and Clean Air Conference today, with a shared ambition to forge a sustainable and equitable future, particularly within our cities, I would like to underscore the profound interconnection between climate, air quality, and health. 

Historically, air quality has consistently served as a primary and often the initial indicator when gauging the quality of a healthy environment. It also reflects the depth of our concern and care for our immediate surroundings and the broader environment. 

Life's essence begins with a breath—a gasp of air that symbolizes the commencement and continuity of existence for Earth's diverse species. Yet, for too many around the globe, this fundamental act of life, breathing, has become a hazard, a life threatening gamble imposed by pollution and climate-induced adversities. 

Let us remind ourselves that our commitment to clean air and a stable climate is not just an environmental cause, it is a fight for our existence and life. Communities in our countries and cities continue to bear the brunt of inaction. Inaction from, unchecked pollution from industrial emission and transport sectors, indoor and outdoor pollution in burning of fossil fuels, relentless deforestation reducing tree cover that cleans air, climate induced wildfires, among others.

All these inactions have led to a world where, 93% of all children live in environments with air pollution levels above the WHO guidelines, more than 2 million children under 5 die every year due to pollution. All these have also led to a burdened and costly healthcare system from avoidable respiratory diseases and worse where 9 out of 10 babies breathe air that poisons them from their first cry.

 93% of all children live in environments with air pollution levels above the WHO guidelines.

We are glaring at a serious climate, health, tipping point. I think and believe it is time we move from only deliberations to taking and pushing for action towards seriously addressing clean air in our policies and investment options coupled with enforceable monitoring measures. 

I believe as climate adversities increase coupled with human induced drivers that promote poor air quality which continues to inflict stress among people, we run a risk of unprecedented challenge to human wellbeing, social and economic instability. 

The journey ahead demands a collective resolve to transition to clean, renewable energy sources, to protect our forests and waterways, and to adopt sustainable agricultural practices. It requires us to confront our addiction to fossil fuels head-on, recognizing the toll it takes on human health and the environment. 

Youth leaders, in particular, have a pivotal role to play in this transformation. Through the Children and Youth Major Group, we have shown that meaningfully engaging young people in environmental processes not only nurtures them to continue driving locally led solutions in their communities, but also makes them bring very valuable policy inputs to intergovernmental processes.

My vision for the future and I believe the vision of everyone here, is a collective resolve to transition to a clean world where clean air and a stable climate underpin decisions of development and the prosperity of all people. 

I implore us to: 

1. move to policy action and implementation that drives and enforces action 

2. Increase investment allocations to solutions that drive clean air quality 

3. Allow room for innovation especially from the youth 

4. Collaborate and share knowledge. 

In closing, my action is growing trees and especially fruit trees in schools across kenya which is a simple action that not only addresses food security but is also a part of the bigger puzzle of cleaning our air in the most basic of natural science. 

What is your honest clean air action?