Listen in full: Elizabeth Wathuti’s keynote speech on climate justice at edie 23

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Readers will likely recognise Elizabeth Wathuti from COP26 in Glasgow in late 2021. There, she appeared to implore world leaders to “open their hearts” and make decisions with those already living with the worst physical impacts of the climate crisis, including communities in the Horn of Africa facing drought.

She had a similar message for the hundreds of sustainability and energy leaders gathered at edie 23, edie’s biggest face-to-face event of the year. Speaking virtually as part of a keynote session also featuring former Unilever chief executive Paul Polman, Wathuti called upon listeners to “close every loophole that enables delay and glorifies inaction” on work to create a sustainable future – environmentally and socially.

She urged listeners to look at who is not being listened to when key decisions are taken, including the most-affected people and communities, the youth and even future generations yet to be born. This kind of leadership may seem alien to many business leaders – Polman said such leaders are often laughed at and called “soft” – but Wathuti emphasised how stewardship for others and nature is ultimately an innate part of being human.

Wathuti also spoke at length about her own work on the Green Generation Initiative, a programme she founded to enable the planting of trees at schools in her native Kenya. This brings benefits in terms of climate adaptation and carbon sequestration, while also providing communities with new sources of food and opportunities to learn nature-related skills.

“Many people are not stepping up to solve challenges on their own doorstep – let alone around the world,” Wathuti said. She argued that taking action in local communties can give us all more credibility when we want to put pressure on big businesses and governments.

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