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Philip Osano discusses air pollution with Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta

Athletics speeds action on climate and air pollution

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Athletics speeds action on climate and air pollution

SEI worked with Kenya’s athletics governing body to meet its climate commitments under the UN initiative on climate and sports to deliver results on air pollution in Kenya and beyond.

Published on 16 November 2023

This change story is from our 2022 annual report (PDF).

Kenya has a proud record in athletics, and in 2021 Athletics Kenya, the country’s governing body for the  sport, became the first of 214 member federations to join World Athletics as a signatory to the UN’s Sports
for Climate Action Framework (S4CA). The initiative urges sports groups to reduce their carbon emissions
in line with the Paris Agreement.

This meant that Athletics Kenya needed to take action to meet these targets. In April 2022 it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with SEI to collaborate on action on climate change and air pollution, alongside Ambassador Amina Mohammed, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage.

Impact at different levels

SEI’s role under the agreement is wide ranging, and SEI has supported Athletics Kenya on multiple
fronts, from monitoring air quality in sports stadiums and facilities, to public awareness campaigns, to training and educational material, to contributing to change in global policy processes. Since the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed, the collaboration generated outcomes throughout 2022 at national, regional and international levels.

At the national level, SEI worked with Athletics Kenya to implement the S4CA, and coordinated the body’s
greenhouse gas emissions reporting for 2021–2022. SEI also co-organized a commemorative run in Nairobi
in March to mark UNEP@50 celebrations.

Also in Kenya, SEI drew on its experience with monitoring air pollution to help install air quality sensors
in seven stadiums and sports facilities. These sensors collect data on air pollution that can inform decision-making by sports organizations.

Regionally, Athletics Kenya and SEI influenced the Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) to make
environment and climate change a high priority for other CAA federations, and the issue will be taken
up at its annual congress scheduled for April 2023.

Globally, SEI has worked to raise awareness on the link between athletics and the environment, highlighting how action on air quality and climate can improve human health. Events in 2022 included a series of events at the UN Stockholm+50 conference in June, including a webinar on the role of sport in the green transition, and a press conference on sports and environment at the African Ministerial Conference on Environment in September in Dakar, Senegal. Speakers included the Director of Climate Change in the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development in Senegal, the UNEP Regional Director for Africa, the Secretary General of the Confederation of African Athletics, the President of Athletics Kenya, and the President of Senegal Athletics Federation.

And in June, as a result of collaboration with Athletics Kenya and SEI, the Swedish Athletics Association became the fourth of the 214 members of World Athletics to become a signatory to the S4CA. At the UN level, all these activities contribute to the UN General Assembly Resolution 75/18 on Sports as an enabler for sustainable development.

Sport is one of the good ways to communicate environmental protection and climate change. Air quality is also important for athletes, and we will continue with the momentum that has already been set. More awareness activities will be organized with the expert knowledge of Athletics Kenya and partners SEI and UNEP.

Lamine Faty, Director General of the Confederation of African Athletics (CAA)

Keys to success

The original catalyst for the results was the clear commitment and leadership shown by sports partners
Athletics Kenya and World Athletics in embracing the S4CA Action Framework, which requires them to meet
key climate actions and targets.

There was also a well-established working relationship among the three partners Athletics Kenya, UNEP and SEI Africa, built on solid agreements that deliver effective collaboration. As part of these arrangements, UNEP directly funded SEI Africa, and purchased the air quality sensors that have been deployed in stadiums and sports facilities in Kenya and Senegal.

Political support from the Government of Kenya was also essential to both Athletics Kenya (through the Ministry of Sports) and to SEI Africa (through the Ministry of Environment). This support enabled engagement in official UN events such as the Stockholm+50 international meeting and COP27, as part of the official Kenyan government delegation.

Finally, diverse partnerships were vital, bringing together sports federations (Athletics Kenya, Confederation of African Athletics, Swedish Athletics, and World Athletics), UN agencies (UNEP, WHO and the UNFCCC Secretariat), research and science bodies (SEI), and national governments and local authorities.

What next?

This work is expanding to involve all athletic federations in Africa through the CAA, and to inform other sporting disciplines and larger sporting events in Africa. The focus over the next three years will be a campaign to highlight climate and air quality issues towards the 2026 Youth Olympics, to be held in Dakar, Senegal. A first step towards this was the installation of an air quality sensor at the Abdoulaye Wade Stadium that will be the venue of the Youth Olympics in 2026.

Strategy for action: Enhanced air quality strategies in low- and middle income countries

Engagement with stakeholders in the world of athletics helped to raise awareness of air pollution and highlight how action to reduce it can bring benefits for health and the climate.

Delivering on our priorities

Illustration of how enhanced air quality strategies leads to enhanced capacities and changed agendas

Graphic: SEI

Design and development by Soapbox.