Children born today are healthier, better nourished, more educated and enjoy greater legal protection than at any other point in human history. But a challenge is looming large on the horizon which is threatening to undermine all of the progress made in protecting and upholding children’s rights in the past thirty years and beyond – climate change.

Global leaders will meet at COP 25 in Madrid from 2-13 December to decide the next steps on how the world tackles the growing climate crisis, and it is crucial that children’s rights are central to their efforts.

Governments must step up

The new policy brief, The Climate Crisis: A Child Rights Crisis, explains how governments can fight the climate crisis without jeopardising child rights. Developed by the six child-focused agencies making up the Joining Forces Alliance (ChildFund Alliance, Plan International, Save the Children International, SOS Children’s Villages International, Terre des Hommes International Federation and World Vision International) the paper explains how global governments must take action to prevent the climate crisis wreaking havoc on children the world over. The paper calls for:

  • Industrialised nations primarily responsible for the problem should ensure poorer countries are supported to transition to net-zero carbon economies, to adapt, and to prepare for the loss and damage that changes to the climate will cause. All action taken to combat the climate crisis should contain strong safeguards to guarantee climate projects respect, protect, promote and fulfil children’s rights;
  • Governments should take measures to integrate climate change in formal and informal education, including green skills, to ensure children can meaningfully participate in decision-making, and that they are not left behind in the transition to a sustainable economy;
  • Children’s involvement in decision-making processes around the climate crisis is also crucial. Governments must empower children to meaningfully participate in decision-making processes, and consult with children on what action should be taken;
  • All of these measure must be aligned with each nations’ commitment to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The time to act is now

There is no time to waste. Average global temperatures have already risen 1°C above pre-industrial levels, exposing millions of children to significant and severe threats to their lives, health and rights.

Over half a billion children currently live in areas with extremely high risk of flooding. 160 million are prone to experiencing severe droughts and 115 million live under the serious threat of being suffering through tropical cyclones.

The risk these issues pose to children is compounded by the fact that they are more vulnerable than adults to natural disasters. Young children cannot regulate their own body temperature in warm conditions, and children are more likely to be killed, injured or experience psychological trauma in environmental catastrophes.

The WHO believes climate change will lead to nearly 95,000 additional deaths per year in children aged 5 due to undernutrition by 2030, and an additional 24 million undernourished children by 2050. Malnutrition caused by increased food insecurity could also lead to moderate or severe stunting in an additional 7.5 million children under the age of 5 by 2030.

Children’s vulnerability to disease could also lead to increased infant mortality due to the climate crisis. By 2030, climate change could result in an additional 60,000 deaths from malaria and 48,000 deaths due to diarrhoeal disease among children under the age of 15.

Children are leading the way

The danger is huge, but children across the world are already taking action. Children in Zambia are being taught knowledge and advocacy skills through the child-led Unite4Climate programme. The programme, ran by UNICEF, the Zambian Ministry of Education and the Wildlife and Conservation Society of Zambia, is empowering children to use these skills to directly influence climate policy in Zambia.

Children are also fighting to defend their rights guarantee a safe climate in the United States. Twenty-one children aged between 9 and 20 have filed a suit against the US Federal Government for failing to adequately address climate change. Similar child-led cases have been launched in other countries worldwide, including a complaint to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Thirty years ago, governments across the world made a promise to children. They promised to always put children first, to protect and respect their rights and to always act in their best interests.

The climate crisis represents the biggest challenge we all face – including children. Governments must do what is best for children when fighting climate change today, so children can prosper on a healthy planet tomorrow.

Picture: Children play around temporary shelters in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, the most deadly typhoon to ever hit the Philippines. ©Tdh/Beelo Neeleman