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This week - as temperatures topped 40C in parts of the UK for the first time ever - Megan Lawrence, Kickstart Project Assistant for Save the Children in Wales, reflects on how important it is to listen to the voices of future generations and their concerns on climate change.

My interests in climate change began in primary school during a lesson on which items we should put in the recycling, such as plastic bottles, glass jars and old newspapers. We were taught that not everything can be recycled with soft plastic, such as cling film and shopping bags - the worst offenders causing widespread pollution.

Even from a young age, this sparked concerns about protecting the environment, which only grew with time. I chose subjects such as Geography for GCSE and A-Level and learnt even more about the impacts on the environment and what the future holds.

I have grown up knowing that human-induced climate change is the defining issue of our time with disruptive implications on places, species, and people's lives. From the rise in sea levels to more extreme weather patterns such as heatwaves, floods, droughts, and wildfires, the impacts of climate change are felt in every corner of the world.

Now aged 22, I am as passionate as I was during my primary and secondary school days about bringing about meaningful change in mitigating the effects of the climate crisis. Before joining the Save the Children Cymru team, I spent seven months campaigning with Climate Cymru during the run-up to COP26. The campaign focused on giving people a voice and calling on the Welsh Government to protect Wales from the pending climate and nature emergencies.

This week red and amber warnings were placed for extreme heat in parts of the UK with temperature in parts of England soaring over 40C for the first time ever. Devastating floods have also become a big threat in the UK and in February 2020, the worst storms to hit Wales in recent history affected over 3,000 homes and businesses across the country. Alarmingly Cardiff, where I was born and raised, has been named as one of the most at risk cities from global warming by 2050, alongside Bangkok, Melbourne, and Amsterdam.

Climate Change and Children

The effects of climate change are clear and reveal the terrible costs to children now and in the future. Research by Save the Children and Oxfam found that one person is likely dying on every 48 seconds in the Horn of Africa, where climate change is fuelling recurring droughts and unpredictable weather conditions.

48 seconds. That is not even enough time to make a cup of tea or listen to a song!

In 2011, a devasting famine killed over a quarter of a million people in Somalia – half of them children under the age of 5. More than a decade later, despite repeated warnings, particularly over the last the two years, the United Nations predicts that 350,000 Somali children may die by the summer if governments and donors do not tackle food insecurity and malnutrition immediately.

Malnourished children are far more vulnerable to infection because their immune system is weakened, which is worrying as they are likely to be exposed to diseases such as malaria due to changes in weather patterns. These impacts will only become worse as the country is on the frontline of the climate crisis. Somalia used to experience one severe drought every ten years, but children born in 2011 or earlier are already facing their third drought - only highlighting the fact that children today face three times as many climate disasters than their grandparents did.

What does the future hold?

I recently read Save the Children's Future of Childhood report, which was carried out across the UK and asked nearly 450 children aged between 4 and 11 years old to share their vision for what they would like the future to look like in 2040.

The children who took part in this research cared a lot about the environment and the world around them. They are worried about climate change and want children in the future to have the same opportunities to connect with animals, plants, and green spaces. Children were worried about the future of trees and wanted to stop them from being cut down instead of planting more so that future generations could enjoy them. They also want to protect honeybees and keep the sea, beaches, and air clean. They suggest that in the future, everyone should do more recycling and walk instead of driving, to be "kind to nature".

Children are clear about what they want for their future, but I feel their voices are underrepresented in environmental discussions, despite being the major stakeholder in their outcomes. Most of the perspectives considered in policy, discussions, disaster management and relief efforts are targeted at adults. Children have the right to participate meaningfully in decisions that affect their life, survival and development and contribute to policies that impact their rights. After all, the UN climate change assessment warns that the world will likely reach a dangerous 1.5°C of warming by the year 2040, eighteen years from now when I will be forty years old.

By then I may have children of my own and I often do wonder, or should I say worry, about the impacts of climate change on them and on their children. Young people are not passive victims but are valuable contributors to climate action. They are agents of change, entrepreneurs, and innovators who can use their skills to accelerate climate action and hold others accountable.

The African proverb, "any small people, who in many small places do many small things, can alter the face of the world", reminds me that change is possible

Let’s keep giving the children of today a say in what their future looks like.

Find out more about how we're tackling the climate crisis >

Stop children wasting away in East Africa >

Read tips for how to talk to children about climate change >

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