We are now entering the home stretch of the long-running negotiations on a new, international climate change deal.
As governments gather in Paris to finalize the agreement, the voices, rights and needs of children and young people should be foremost in their minds.
To be blunt, most of the people in the negotiating rooms in Paris will not be around to witness the worst effects of climate change. It’s today’s children and young people, who have not contributed to the problem of a changing climate, who will suffer the impacts well into the future. Under current proposals, children will be growing up in a world that faces unsafe levels of warming.
Climate change is deeply unjust. This injustice will be felt not only between rich and poor countries, but also across generations.
But climate change is not a concern for the distant future. It is happening now and its impacts are already being felt, particularly by the poorest communities. And children in the poorest communities are among those most vulnerable to climate-related disasters, reductions in food production and changes in disease patterns.
In developing countries, climate change is projected to exacerbate the top five causes of death for children under 5. Children also face less obvious risks in a changing climate — education is disrupted when disasters hit, while threats to families’ livelihoods often hit children the hardest.
But to portray children simply as passive victims in the face of climate change would be a mistake. When they are informed, empowered and listened to, children and young people can make a hugely positive change.
Working with communities
At child rights organization Plan International, our work in communities has shown that children have the ideas, energy and enthusiasm that adults often lack. Our distinctive approach to child-centered climate change adaptation builds and harnesses children’s capacities — girls and boys are engaged in climate risk assessment, adaptation planning and raising awareness in their communities.
For example, through our programming in the Philippines, children and young people are producing their own public service announcements to warn their friends and communities about the impacts of climate change. Using video and audio recordings, children tell their peers and the wider community what they’ve learned about climate change in an easy-to-understand way.
From this work, it is clear children and young people care about climate change — they understand that it’s their futures at stake and they are calling passionately on their leaders to take the bold and ambitious action needed to stem it.
The children and young people that Plan International works with around the world — in both the most polluting countries and those most affected by the impact of climate change — are coming together through the #2065YourFuture campaign, which is collecting statements from young people from around the world on the actions they are taking to tackle climate change as well as what they want their governments to do. Youth representatives in Paris will present the young people’s collective voice during the United Nations climate change conference — known as COP21.
Marinel, 18, from the Philippines, is part of Plan International’s climate change projects in the Philippines and will be calling for leaders to take action when she heads to Paris. She knows how devastating the effects of climate change can be, having lost most of her belongings to Typhoon Haiyan after it destroyed her village.
“I couldn’t have imagined the typhoon would be so dramatic and that I would see the roofs of houses flying around,” she said. “My house, my school and my belongings were damaged. Climate change steals children’s futures. Our future. We need to educate people about the dangers of it and world leaders must take this topic seriously.”
Standing up for children’s rights
So what does a focus on children mean in the context of the Paris deal, and importantly in its implementation in countries and communities around the world?
First, it means that governments should have the courage to agree to a deal that safeguards the futures and rights of today’s children. Today’s leaders have presided over the highest global greenhouse gas emissions in history; it is now incumbent on them to take the necessary action to ensure that emissions peak soon, then fall rapidly and that global temperatures rise by no more than 2 degrees Celsius, and ideally 1.5 degrees Celsius. It they fail to do this, they are bestowing upon today’s children a dangerous and uncertain future in which securing their rights will be increasingly difficult.
Second, it means making strong commitments to support and finance climate change adaptation in the poorest countries, which targets the most vulnerable, including children. Importantly, children and young people must be meaningfully engaged in adaptation decision-making, implementation and monitoring at local and national levels.
Third, it means ensuring that children and young people are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to take action on climate change — by, for example, including climate change and disaster risk reduction needs in school curricula.
While the outcome from Paris is still uncertain, it is clear that we need a climate-literate generation. We must build the capacity of today’s children and young people to drive the societies they inherit toward a sustainable, low carbon and resilient future.
Stay tuned for #PlanetWorth, an online conversation exploring leading solutions in the fight against climate change. From Dec. 1 #PlanetWorth will shine a light on issues including resilience and livelihoods, urbanization and smart cities, innovation and profile those engaged in building a more sustainable future.
Alison Wright is climate change policy officer for Plan International. She has worked for over five years on climate change and disaster risk reduction within different parts of the NGO sector and as an independent consultant. She also has almost 10 years of experience as an educator. Her current focus is on child-centered climate change adaptation at Plan International.
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