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Cancun climate talks forget children

It’s been nearly ten days since 20,000 delegates gathered in Cancun along the azure blue Caribbean waters to strike a global climate change deal.

We arrived in sunny Cancun last week, playing our part as civil society pushing for a good result from the climate change negotiations. Since then it’s been non-stop action to engage with delegates and observers through both research, advocacy and communication. We set up our Save the Children exhibit booth and scurried through side-events and negotiation venues as well as engaged in meetings with NGO consortiums and various country delegations to advocate for a child-rights perspective in these negotiations.

Our exhibition booth was a runaway success, thanks to large, red bag giveaways, courtesy of our Mexico team. Our side event discussing the Africa Climate Change Resilience Alliance adaptive social capacity framework was very well-received and so was our position paper, Right to a Future, which calls for the voices and experiences of children to be at the heart of discussion on climate change.

However, as we enter the last leg of Cancun, I feel disheartened. It appears that yet again, a precious opportunity for the world leaders to come together to make decisions to save the lives of millions of children has been lost. The negotiations have happened in a vacuum with children voices and experiences barely filtering through, leaving little scope for Cancun to deliver climate justice.

In the negotiations that have taken place so far, discussions on how those most vulnerable to climate change will adapt have been given a low priority. There is much to be done before there can be a fair and equitable negotiation outcome to help people adapt to all the changes that will take place. While Heads of State paint shiny stories of green economies, the stark realities present a humble contrast. It’s deeply concerning that the needs and rights of children — despite being the single most vulnerable group — haven’t been referenced.

The structure of the adaptation committee – the key governing body for the decisions on funding to help with adaptation — remains unclear, and so does the issue of adaptation finance and how it weighs in absolute terms against mitigation finance. Issues such as damage and response measures have become prominent and slowed the much-needed consensus. Also, when financing is on offer, it remains unclear whether it’s new money or just recycled from other projects and re-labelled.

Heartbreaking, but inspiring stories

In all this chaos, my one ray of hope has been the enthusiasm and effort from the future leaders of this world — the children, themselves! Young children from Mexico, Haiti, Indonesia and Belize today shared their heartbreaking but inspiring stories of living through and coping with disasters in a Children in Changing Climate Coalition event, organised by Save the Children and our partners.

Their stories were powerful and their fears are real. One of them said: “We’re willing to work with you, are you willing to work with us?” They helped to refocus our energies on why we are all here in Cancun. It was heartening to hear Mary Robinson talk about the unique perspectives that children can offer in the climate change realm that adults can’t offer and how children can be the living conscience of the process. Yvo De Boer came in to extend a strong support for how child-centred perspectives need to be integrated into climate change negotiations and onward implementation processes.

Clearly the children have drawn the attention of the world leaders to the impact climate change has on the lives of innocent children and communities. They have brought perspective, clarity and a sense of purpose. I hope the global leaders are listening.

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