On Thursday, March 16, 2023, the University of Nairobi welcomed His Excellency President Sergio Mattarella, President of the Republic of Italy, for a public address on Climate Change at the historic Taifa Hall. The visit, his 6th trip to the African Continent was part of a four-day state visit between 13-16th March 2023.
In his opening remarks, H.E President Sergio expressed his gratitude to address the audience at the prestigious university of Nairobi which also taught the late Prof. Wangari Maathai; the first African Woman to receive the Nobel Prize and her tireless commitment to the promotion of sustainable development of democracy and peace. Her example has been a source of inspiration for women and men around the world. President Sergio said, ‘’the subject of climate change is no longer the prerogative only of scientists and politicians but it is a question that mobilizes consciences globally. For too long we have addressed the issue of environmental protection and climate change in an inadequate way and how human activities have an impact on the environment and on the climate. The effects of climate change have sped up and the rise in average temperatures are serious; the dramatic increase in heat waves is felt everywhere in the world, the floods, the drought, the melting of the glaciers the rise in sea levels are some of the symptoms of a failing climate’’.
He also noted on the decrease in biodiversity which is largely linked to the felling of the equatorial rainforests with the disappearance of thousands of living species. The raising of the waters in the seas poses a serious risk to the survival of numerous islands
The President also applauded the contributions made by the United Nations and other agencies in protecting the environment; the work of the united nation in the framework of the 2030 agenda on the environment, 1987montereal conference, Kyoto protocol, and Paris agreement are all steps that been made on reducing the ozone hole to prevent catastrophic scenarios linked to the rise in global temperatures; The united nations has also signed a treaty that intends to protect 30% of marine waters by 2030.
The African continent is the hardest hit despite having contributed much less than others to the current deterioration. According to the latest reports on climate change, glaciers on Mt. Kenya are at a risk of disappearing in the next decade while those on Mt. Kilimanjaro may not exist beyond 2040. These magnificent African peaks are at a risk the same as those in the Alps in Europe where snow is already much less. ‘’The efforts of the African Union and European Union will never be enough; only collective action can be capable of combining effectiveness and solidarity to avoid the catastrophic scenarios. It is time for unity and cohesion, not divisions. The fight against climate change is a unifying objective which calls for multilateral dialogue and commitments’’. President Sergio said
He concluded by reminiscing the words of environmentalist Prof Wangari Maathai ‘there can be no peace without development and there can be no development without sustainable management of the environment in a peaceful and democratic space’.
The Cabinet Minister for Education, Hon. Ezekiel Machogu noted Italy and Kenya share a common vision of prosperity, peaceful coexistence of nations and the promotion of long lasting friendships and understanding between our people. The two nations enjoy cordial relationships on many sectors including long standing collaboration in the education sector through scholarships and research partnerships.
The CS further noted UoN has a strong partnership with Sapenza University of Rome in the field of space science and this enabled the university to launch the first Kenya satellite. He said ‘’we look forward to more and stronger partnerships going forward. I encourage Italian investors to explore the opportunities available in our education sector, especially through public private partnerships with our universities The impact of climate change is being felt strongly even on the education sector drought, hunger extreme temperatures and climate change related diseases and conflict are affecting school attendance retention and progress’’.
Hon. Machogu concluded by noting the Government has taken steps to integrate climate change and environment in its policies through President Ruto’s 13 point plan on agriculture and climate change. The government also intends to grow the tree cover to 30% by the year 2032. ‘’We look forward to partnerships in mitigating the effects of climate change’’. the CS concluded.
The event was also graced by the Cabinet Minister for Environment Hon. Soipan Tuya. She started by thanking the Government of Italy for the support they have continued to offer Kenya and for choosing Kenya to be among the 20 countries that will benefit from the 3 year program in the area of economic empowerment.
The minister noted it was a great day of significance having coincided with the start of the rains. The country has experienced a drought that has not been seen in the last 40 years leading to loss of livelihood and losing more than 3 million livestock in the last few months.
The CS noted human activities like use of fossil fuels, deforestation unsustainable agriculture and others contribute greatly to environmental degradation, climate change and a reduction in global corals and in this, no country will remain unaffected. She said, ‘’we need to take measures that will reduce environmental degradation, climate change mitigation and adaptation. Climate change is a complex global problem which is intertwined with other issues such as economic development and poverty reduction and poverty reduction. Eradication of poverty and improving living conditions through sustainable development remains a global priority. The challenge therefore is the realization of sustainable development while also reducing dependence on carbon and promoting climate resilience. As a country we are aware of the importance of providing education, training and awareness. We must focus on planting the seed to create an informed citizen, knowledgeable workforce, enlightened government officials on the role of each person on environmental management and protection and conservation’’.
The CS further noted on the importance that the study of environment and climate change is integrated in our education systems since education plays a key role in cultivating the involvement of engaged and informed young people.
‘’Youth should be involved in climate change policies as they should be recognized as an active force that can play a critical role as change agents. Specific roles and activities need to be curved out for youth in decision-making in climate change and governance, and policy development. The youth climate summit with be held from 4th to 6th of September 2023’’.
In her concluding remarks, the CS urged universities to develop and establish a curriculum that focuses on environment and climate change education for sustainable development program which uses innovative educational approaches to help a broad audience with a special focus on youth.
The Chancellor Dr. Vijoo Rattansi in her opening remarks said, ‘’Mr. President, your presence here today is a celebration of the unbreakable ties that continue to bind our respective countries. There’s no iota of doubt in my mind that time is ripe to leverage the Kenyan-Italian partnership to address climate change for the mutual benefit of the peoples of our respective continents. At the University of Nairobi, we are committed to continued fostering of academic and research collaborations with peer universities in Italy for the benefit of scholarship and humanity. She also reminisced on the visit by then Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi 7 years ago and gave a speech on the challenges of development; combating terrorism and extremism. The Chancellor also spoke candidly on the collaboration between UoN and the University of Rome (Sapenza) on the first University Nano Satellite which was from the Japanese Experiment Module (Kibo) of the International Space Station (ISS).
In his welcome remarks, the Vice Chancellor Prof. Stephen Kiama noted, “I am optimistic that your presence here signifies the strengthening of ties between the peoples of our two countries on issues of mutual interest, such as climate change’’. The VC also spoke proudly of Environmentalist and 2004 Nobel Peace Laureate, the late Professor Wangari Maathai and how the university has prioritized climate research through institutions like the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies and the Institute for Climate Change and Adaptation (ICCA). He also laid emphasis on the importance of global partnerships and collaboration in expanding and exploring possibilities.
UoN has collaborated with Italian universities and scientific Institutions on joint research and student and staff exchange programmes, and also the introduction of Italian as a foreign language in the University.
The four-day presidential visit is expected to boost trade and investment opportunities between Kenya and Italy and promote the development of key sectors such as Water, Agriculture, and Tourism.