Celebrities' role as catalysts for climate action


It’s a season to be jolly, now that Kenya has bagged billions of shillings at COP28. At the ongoing global climate talks in Dubai, President William Ruto not only shone during the Africa Green Industrialisation Initiative launch, but also closed deals worth more than Sh640 billion, some initiated last year. He returns home more energised to tackle food insecurity and unemployment, and with hope to achieve his 10-year tree planting initiative that will reduce biodiversity loss and increase carbon sequestration.

All seems good, except that such funds are rarely without any strings attached, yet Africans still suffer deadly climate disasters. Kenya, for instance, has recently lost dozens of lives in El Nino. This week, tens of lives were lost in Tanzania after hours of flooding in Hanang District, where nearly 200 people were also injured.

Africa’s success, economic growth and stability will be achieved if more global action, especially phase-out of fossil fuel projects, is complemented by awareness creation, capacity building and funds reaching those at the frontline of the crisis. And this is not solely government work. Business leaders, celebrities and philanthropists have a role to play. Celebrities have a unique ability to draw attention to crucial issues. Just as pandemics, chaos, war and other crises, climate change is an imminent threat demanding similar attention. In Africa, where the effects of climate change are profoundly felt, celebrities advocating environmental conservation and sustainable practices are powerful agents of change.

Kenyan actress and UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador Lupita Nyong'o’s commitment to raising awareness about environmental conservation, especially in East Africa, is exemplary. But with her many followers on social media, Lupita can initiate more frequent public engagements to highlight issues like deforestation, plastic pollution, and biodiversity conservation, and encourage her followers to take actionable steps towards a sustainable future.

Nigerian musician Burna Boy has collaborated with organisations advocating environmental protection, which inspires youth and music fans to engage in climate activism. These celebrities’ advocacy can also serve as a beacon of hope.

More celebrities, including DJs like Pinye, Moh and Mo, in Kenya, can be facilitated to sensitise their fans when they are most listened to, even as they align with broader global movements where public figures leverage their influence to drive meaningful change.

Their involvement may also inspire faster policy change, as they bring attention to challenges that might otherwise go unnoticed. Governments and policymakers tend to act faster with public pressure and attention from influential figures.

Celebrity involvement, therefore, complements and does not substitute systemic change. Celebrities can partner with business leaders and philanthropists, who equally have substantial influence and resources, capable of enacting meaningful change on a global scale. Companies like Land Rover or Mercedes, for instance, can increase climate-conscious investment and innovations by supplying more electric vehicles, but also fund advocacy for locally-led climate action. 

Elon Musk, who invests heavily in renewable energy solutions, and Bill Gates, who directs resources through the Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund, demonstrate how personal commitment and dedication can amplify climate action. When philanthropists like Manu Chandaria speak out on climate change, their words carry weight, galvanise support and spur action at all levels.

This collaboration cannot wait. Ultimately, the fight against climate change necessitates a collective effort.

The writer advocates climate justice. [email protected]