UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell's remarks at the appointment of Vanessa Nakate as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador

As delivered

15 September 2022

NEW YORK, 15 September 2022 - "Good afternoon and welcome.

"Every now and then, the world encounters a person with the credibility and influence to change the course of a conversation. Today I have the pleasure of introducing Vanessa Nakate, who I believe is one of those people.

"As many of you already know, Vanessa is a climate justice activist from Kampala, Uganda. She began her activism journey in January 2019, at the age of 22, with a climate strike inspired by Greta Thunberg. She bravely stood with her siblings and cousins at intersections of crowded markets holding signs demanding climate action.

"From there, Vanessa’s determination only grew. A year later, she was invited to attend the World Economic Forum in Switzerland to help raise awareness of how climate change is transforming the Arctic.

"But Vanessa unexpectedly drew attention of a different kind when a news outlet cropped her out of an image with Greta and three other white climate activists. She immediately called out the injustice – and made international headlines.

"Today, Vanessa is an instrumental force in redirecting the conversation on climate change to focus on the people who are most affected by this crisis – the poor and most marginalized.

"She is the founder of the Rise Up Climate Movement and the Vash Green Schools project -- and today, I am very proud to appoint her to serve as UNICEF Global Goodwill Ambassador.

"Vanessa, UNICEF shares so many of your ambitions for our planet, for education, and for women and girls. We are so lucky to have you as a partner – and now, as an ambassador.

"There has never been a more urgent time to be doing this work together.

"As we have seen in recent months -- with heatwaves all over the world, wildfires in Europe, floods in Pakistan, and droughts in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, the impacts of climate change are here now.  

"Vanessa knows this all too well.  She has just returned from visiting families and emergency workers in the Horn of Africa where millions of children and families have been pushed to the brink of famine. 

"Waiting for climate emergencies to happen before responding is a losing game. That’s why UNICEF is calling on governments to meet their commitments to drastically reduce emissions – and urging them to adopt critical social services and systems on which children rely. 

"In our own work, that means delivering climate-resilient water infrastructure or installing solar panels in schools and hospitals.

"It means working with governments to prioritize children in national climate plans and strategies.

"And in everything we do around climate, it means working with children and young people: advocating for their right to a place at the table, amplifying their voices, and collaborating with them to fight for climate justice. 

"I am especially excited about our work with Fridays for Future, the youth-led global climate strike movement.

"Young people like Vanessa – and many other young people I meet on my travels as Executive Director – give me hope and energize me in all our work.

"So, to all the youth climate activists out there, please know that UNICEF supports your calls for a better future for your generation -- and for our shared planet. We are honored to work alongside you to drive inclusive climate action.

"So I am thrilled to welcome Vanessa to the UNICEF family – and excited for what we can achieve together."

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