05 Sep 2019 Story Ecosystems

Freestyle skier Kelly Sildaru: step by step towards a positive environmental impact

Photo from Kelly and Henry Sildaru’s personal collection

Estonian skiing phenomenon Kelly Sildaru, 17, is the youngest ever gold medalist at a Winter X Games event, and she’s out to win not just more medals but also the hearts and minds of youth across the world: she wants to make the world a better place.

Together with her younger brother, Henry, they dream of skiing on snow-covered mountains, but they’ve also begun to acknowledge the impact of their daily actions—what they buy, what they eat, how often they travel—on the environment.

“We want to change youth behaviour and raise their environmental awareness through giving simple recommendations and instructions on how to become eco-friendly,” says Kelly.

She has already taken the first steps. In March 2019, when Estonia presided at the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, Kelly delivered a keynote speech, and together with Henry they planted trees in Estonia this summer to offset their carbon emissions.

 Their next campaign, #stepbystep, is about how to take small steps each day to improve our environment.

Learning to ski at the age of two under the eyes of her father, Tõnis, Kelly developed her skiing skills at a phenomenal rate and by the age of 6-7 she had begun landing her own tricks on the rails and jumps. She travelled to the French Alps as the terrain in Estonia is limited. Suddenly, the options diversified: bigger and smaller jumps, longer rails, different slopes, and half-pipes.

But even that terrain, the Alps, is now affected by global heating, threatening skiing as we know it. Glaciers around the world are rapidly melting and in danger of vanishing altogether.

Rising temperatures pose a threat not only to mountains and the ecosystem, but to people enjoying winter sports in skiing resorts: Scandinavian resorts that used to open in November or December now use snow guns to create enough snow to ride on; 19 of the 21 places that have hosted the winter Olympics would be too hot to host them again by the end of this century if we don’t take action to control global heating.

Kelly and Henry are encouraging people to take small steps to save our planet. “By doing it together, all of our individual small steps become hundreds, then thousands, then millions of actions, and that results in a big impact,” says Kelly.

The campaign #stepbystep will be launched in August 2019 with the Estonian Ministry of the Environment and in parallel with its “The Youth Year of the Environment” activities.

Key messages of the campaign are that you don’t have to be perfect to do good. Begin by taking small steps—if we all start to take them, and keep taking them, they will add up quickly and companies and governments will start to take notice and provide more sustainable options and do more to tackle the climate crisis. It reminds young people to be aware that their many small decisions in daily life have a wider impact and that we should all think about whether our decisions reflect who we think we are and want to be, or if we could take extra steps to do more.

The messages are aimed at 12–19-year-olds and how their behaviour can change the environmental crisis our planet is facing. The campaign includes five core themes which are introduced each month: Less plastic; Reuse and recycle; Wisely to school (transport); Eat smart; Consume less, buy wisely.

The themes will be aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and have sub-messages including suggestions on how to take better care of our planet step by step.

Kelly with her younger brother, Henry. Photo from Kelly and Henry Sildaru’s personal collection

“Young people have already shown that they are key players in helping to persuade governments to take action on the climate,” says UN Environment Programme’s mountain ecosystems expert Musonda Mumba. “Kelly and Henry Sildaru are making a valuable contribution in helping to raise youth awareness that there are things we can all do to help tackle the climate crisis.”


The UN Climate Action Summit will take place in New York City on 23 September 2019 to increase ambition and accelerate action on the global climate emergency and support the rapid implementation of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The 2019 UN Climate Action Summit is hosted by UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

For further information, please contact Annika Arras: annika.arras[at]miltton.com or Matthias Jurek: Matthias.Jurek[at]un.org or Niklas Hagelberg: Niklas.Hagelberg[at]un.org