SHARM EL-SHEIKH. “Deal reached at Cop27 addresses symptoms of climate crisis but not its root cause.” She is half happy Sophia Kiannia 20-year-old activist adviser to the Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres on climate issues. “The creation of a fund for the Loss and damage it is a historic victory. But we still need to keep lobbying to ensure that the fund’s money actually materialises. As well as getting stricter language on phasing out fossil fuels into future agreements.”
A 20-year-old American of Iranian descent, she studies climate science and public policy at Stanford University. She founded and is director of Climate Cardinals, a non-profit, with 8,000 volunteers in over 40 countries working to translate climate change information into 100 languages. In the halls of the UN, and also at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, when you spoke before the world’s powerful, you brought a breath of fresh air. And air is the theme that is most dear to Sophia Kianni: “More than seven million people die prematurely every year because they breathe toxic air. The climate crisis is above all a health crisis. Respiratory diseases are part of my family history and also for this I fight to ensure that my and future generations have access to clean air.”
Sophia, when did you start working on the environment?
“Growing up, I witnessed first-hand the impact of oil and gas air pollution in my parents’ home country. In Iran, thousands of people are hospitalized every day due to deteriorating air quality. But also In Washington DC, where I was born, new studies have shown that air pollution poses health risks.”
Now, however, he lives in California.
“Yes, I recently moved to study at Stanford University. Unfortunately, the air pollution in Californian cities is among the worst in the United States.”
Blame the fires that have devastated that state in recent years?
“Fires are one of the causes. But the deterioration of air quality is also linked to global warming and the consequent extreme weather events. All of this represents a serious threat to the health and life of all Americans, but especially of children, the elderly, low-income communities, communities of color, and people with chronic illnesses.”
What does all this have to do with Cop27 where you gave a speech?
“Let me be clear: this air pollution is caused by the burning of coal, oil and gas. A fossil fuel, the latter, which continues to be presented by some, including at COP27, as a way to lift people out of poverty. But how can you lift people out of poverty when you’re literally poisoning them? Fossil fuels are killing us.”
Do you see hope on the horizon?
“Climate change is a health emergency, but it is also an opportunity. Because reducing climate pollution will translate into immediate and long-term health benefits. But if we want to avoid catastrophic outcomes, we must drastically and immediately reduce the greenhouse gases, especially methane”.
What does it suggest?
“If our leaders acted to meet WHO’s air quality guidelines, we would save millions of lives: every day around 93% of the world’s children under 15 (1.8 billion children) breathe air so polluted enough to put their health and development at serious risk. With $8 trillion we would save them and lead real climate action. So what are we waiting for?”