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Why COP26 Failed to Protect Child Rights

How many world leaders does it take to change the future? More than 120, if this year’s COP26 climate negotiations are anything to go by. The annual climate conference failed to meet its most essential promise: to put children at the heart of the decision making process. 

Despite pledges to be the ‘most inclusive COP’, the Summit’s outcomes fell short yet again. That needs to change. The Glasgow delegates might not be around by the time the world’s at breaking point. But their children and grandchildren will be. That’s why it’s time to see the climate crisis for what it is - a child rights crisis - and give them a say in the future of our planet. 

Young people on its frontline are already paying the price of inaction with their lives. 


During the two-week conference, over 5 million babies were born worldwide. And yet, their futures already hang in the balance. They will live through seven times as many heatwaves, more than twice as many droughts, and three times as many crop failures as their grandparents. 

Extreme weather events will be most catastrophic in developing countries. Children who already have no voice - those already facing inequality and discrimination - will be hit the hardest.

Save the Children’s Global Director of Child Poverty and Climate, Yolande Wright, says: “The hunger crisis is worsening in many regions, including East Africa where another drought is bringing millions to the brink of starvation, and serious funding shortages mean we cannot take the action we know is needed to save lives and livelihoods. 

"We aren’t discussing distant climate impacts that might happen – we are talking about crises happening right now, where children are affected first and worst and many are tragically already losing their lives.”

Climate crisis illustration


The crucial 1.5 degrees Celsius global temperature goal is getting further out of reach. That number is essential to protecting children’s futures. 

Our recent report with Vrije Universiteit Brussels shows that reaching that goal will transform children’s futures. The additional lifetime exposure to heatwaves that today’s newborns are set to live through  will drop by 45%; by 39% for droughts; and by 28% for crop failures. That is why we must not settle for the limited outcomes of COP26.

Malawian youth climate activist Dorothy Kazombo Mwale says: “We can’t keep doing this again and again and not getting results. Give us a seat at the table so we can secure our future.”

Dorothy is right: it’s time to put children’s concerns at the centre of our policymaking.


It is also time for wealthier countries to support lower income states to overcome climate change.

Wright says: “High-income countries that have economically benefited from producing the most emissions must address their carbon debt by contributing their fair share of climate finance – particularly for the most vulnerable children. We need to see climate financing beyond the $100 billion commitment promised years ago and still not delivered – and we need to see a much stronger commitment to climate adaptation.

"This may sound challenging, but when we compare this to ongoing subsidies to the fossil fuel industry it really is affordable. As a child rights organisation, we are outraged that adults are failing to act in the best interests of children – as we promised to do in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”


Children are now leading the movement for action on climate change and showing us what is possible. Rather than sidelining young people, world leaders must start learning from them. 

Wright says: “We have seen tremendous leadership from young people in and around COP26.  The real drive to secure our futures comes from the children and young people. As the leaders of the future, children must be listened to.”

“Despite the overwhelming scientific, economic and moral case, our leaders have unambiguously failed children and bowed to vested interests who aren’t prepared to take the brave steps we know are necessary.  Children around the world will pay the price of inaction with their lives. We must do better. This COP must be the last time the international community describes the problem without taking the necessary actions to properly address it.”

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