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Vanessa Nakate, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Wants to Center Climate Frontline Communities

In this op-ed, the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador talks about the climate emergencies we’re not paying attention to.

On 15 September 2022 UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Vanessa Nakate stands for a portrait in front of the 'Sphere within a...© UNICEF/UN0704031/DAYLIN PAUL

A historic drought is wreaking havoc on communities in the Horn of Africa.

In countries in the region like Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, four consecutive rainy seasons have failed in the last two years – killing crops and livestock and drying up water sources. Forecasts suggest the next rains are likely to fail too.

In September, I went to northern Kenya with UNICEF to meet the people suffering from this ongoing emergency. On my last morning in Lodwar, the capital of Turkana county, I met a child in a hospital where the very worst cases of malnutrition are referred and treated. Unfortunately, this child’s family was not able to access the proper services in time for him to receive the treatment that he needed. By the time the sun set that evening, sadly, he had passed away.

I find it very hard to talk about what I experienced that day. As an activist, you speak and write constantly about the injustice of the climate emergency — the fact that the people who have done the least to create the crisis are suffering the most — but you don’t always get such a personal, heartbreaking introduction to the stakes. Yet we must talk about these more difficult stories, too, because the stakes are life and death, and this boy is the face of the climate crisis.

Africa is responsible for less than 4% of historic carbon emissions, and yet so many Africans are among the worst affected by their consequences. UNICEF’s Children’s Climate Risk Index found 1 billion children — nearly half the world’s children — live in 33 countries that are at extremely high risk from the impacts of climate change. The top 10 countries are all in Africa.

And these people are not getting the attention they deserve. The mothers I met in northern Kenya are on the frontlines of this emergency, but they are not on the front pages of the world’s newspapers.

This must change.

Almost two million more children, like that little boy, are currently at risk of severe acute malnutrition in the Horn of Africa. In Uganda, where I am from, a combination of longer droughts, rising temperatures, and more severe flooding is destroying livelihoods and disrupting food supply. Malnutrition is also rising in Pakistan, following intense heatwaves and floods this year. None of these crises are getting the attention they deserve.

In our conversations about climate justice, we need to talk about nutrition, water insecurity and other consequences of climate change that are impacting communities now. And when we talk about these issues, the people on the frontlines must be given a seat at the table and a chance to be heard.

I have had firsthand experience of feeling like my nationality and the color of my skin meant that people weren’t listening to me. It’s a horrible feeling, and it’s counter-productive to our collective mission to resolve the climate crisis.

Every activist has a story to tell, every story has a solution to offer, and every solution has a life to change. That’s why I founded the Rise Up Movement to provide a platform for activists from Africa and it’s why I’m getting behind World Children’s Day — UNICEF’s global day of action for children, by children, celebrated every year on November 20. This year, World Children’s Day is focused on equality and inclusion.


Vanessa Nakate Climate Justice activist and Founder of Rise Up MovementVanessa Nakate, climate justice activist and founder of Rise Up Movement© UNICEF/UN0706053/CIA PAK

Regardless of where you are from, the color of your skin, what God you believe in, or who you love, every young person has the right to be heard and included. No one should be excluded from the conversation because of who they are. We cannot meaningfully address climate change without involving the people suffering from the impacts, including our youngest generations. We need these people in the room to ensure policies and solutions work for everyone. And we need everyone to speak up and demand action.

As a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, I have committed to using the role to amplify marginalized voices and demand they are included. But mine is not the only voice they should hear.

Whether you’re from Uganda, Bangladesh, Poland or Peru, you deserve to be part of the conversation. You should rise up. Even if your life feels far removed from the life-and-death stakes of the situation for the children I met in Kenya, your voice is still needed on their behalf. Climate change will affect every single one of us — if not now, then in the not so distant future. Each of us has a role to play in building a better community, a better country, and a better planet.

It’s not too late.

Via Teen Vogue

Joyce Rey
Joyce Rey
Joyce Rey

Joyce Rey is one of the most respected names in luxury real estate worldwide, having represented some of the most significant properties in the world.



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