Leaders and policy makers from across the world will be gathering at a series of important global meetings in the coming weeks - at the Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, the COP27 Summit in Egypt, and the G20 Summit in Indonesia. As they pack their bags for these meetings, there is one critical thing they must not leave behind.
Hope is incredibly powerful, but is a tricky concept to define. It is often mistakenly dismissed as a fairly unimportant, passive sentiment. But, in reality, hope is both active and purposeful, embodying not only a desire for something to happen, but a belief that it can, and must. Hope is a precondition for action, and a catalyst for change.
Members of Save the Children’s international Child Reference Group, which advises us on our campaigning, summed it up perfectly. One described hope as "a way of thinking that propels us to action." Another said "hope is a thing that is the beginning of anything. If you hope to do anything there is no power that can stop you."
Given the complexity and severity of the multiple, overlapping crises that the world currently faces, it would be easy for policy makers to lose hope, and lapse into despair or apathy. A hunger, poverty and cost of living crisis is unfolding across the world, driven by a complex interplay between the climate emergency, conflict, economic turmoil, Covid, and deep inequalities in wealth and power between the world’s haves and have-nots.
These are symptoms of a global economic system and financial architecture that are not fit for purpose. Fixing them is not a straightforward task, but it is a necessity. Global leaders must use every opportunity they have in the coming weeks to do so. Hope is a critical ingedient for success.
Listening to children
At Save the Children, our reserves of hope have recently been given a boost by our biggest-ever conversation with children that concluded last month. We heard from over 54,500 children and young people from 41 countries about climate change and inequality through a series of in-person dialogues, online consultations and surveys. Our aim was to understand if and how children are experiencing climate change and inequality in their lives, and what they want adults to do about it. Importantly, we wanted to understand how children are already taking action on the issues, and how an organisation like ours can best support them to make their voices heard.
Most of our conversations with children took place between June and August – a time when the world was starting to wake up to the sheer depth of the global food and cost of living crisis. Spiralling food prices were one of the themes most consistently raised by children we spoke to, highlighted in lower and higher income countries alike. "Food is very expensive, and my mother can’t buy some things," commented one 10-year-old in Spain. "The prices of things keep going up," said one 18-year-old in Zambia. "How are we supposed to sustain ourselves and our families if they keep raising the prices?"
83% of children participating in the surveys we did in 15 countries said they had noticed climate change or inequality affecting the world around them. The stories and experiences they shared were heart-breaking. "Floods since 2019 have been washing away our farm… Sometimes my parents find it difficult to feed us well. Other children in my community also have their farms washed away too… some of them even lose their houses," one 14-year-old girl in Nigeria told us.
As well as issues of food insecurity and housing, children spoke of increased incidence of school dropouts, child marriage and child labour as families struggle to cope. Many had experienced or observed changes in weather patterns or extreme weather events, and noted how these are hitting those most affected by inequality and discrimination hardest – including many of the children we spoke to themselves. Others spoke of the impacts of pollution, waste and environmental degradation on their rights to health and play. A number shared feelings of anxiety and fear for the future. "The only thing I can think about is fear," said a 17-year-old boy in Italy.
Yet, despite these impacts, most of the children we spoke to were firm in their belief that change is possible. 73% of survey respondents wanted adults to do more to make it happen. Many had practical and insightful ideas for solutions, and a significant number are already taking action in their communities and beyond, including 35% of those who participated in our surveys in 15 countries. "A lot of people in our organisation are engaged in these issues," said an 18-year-old activist in Norway. "It is our Earth and future on the line, after all."
Change is possible
While the stories children shared with us about the impacts of the climate and inequality crisis were devastating, their activism, creativity and focus on the possibility of change restored our hope and strengthened our determination to fight tirelessly for a more just and green planet.
We’ll be presenting a more in-depth exploration of what children told us through our dialogues in the weeks ahead, including in a new global report on the global climate and inequality crisis (Generation Hope, set for release on October 26th). But for now, we are urging the world’s policy and decision makers meeting in Washington next week, and at the G20 and COP meetings, to listen to children, shore up their reserves of hope, and translate it into action.
Action is urgently needed, not least to ensure that all countries have the financing and fiscal space they need to protect their children from crisis and build a greener, more prosperous future, especially lower income and climate-vulnerable countries. Options for achieving this are ready and waiting (as articulated, for example, in the Bridgetown Agenda for reform of the international financial architecture and the recent Cairo Communique from African Ministers of Finance, Economy and Environment). The bold action and international cooperation required to push such reforms forward with the speed required are of course not always easy. But the message from children is clear: urgent action isn’t an option. It’s imperative.
Translating hope into action
The messages children shared with us through our dialogues provide not only a powerful impetus for action by the world’s policy and decision makers, but also guiding principles for making it happen. These include:
- Look beyond national interest. "We need to work together because we don’t live in the same country, but in the same world," said one boy in South Africa.
- Work in partnership and solidarity. "Unity is the greatest strength of all, so we need to stand together in this fight," shared a child from India.
- Draw inspiration from human ingenuity: "I keep faith in humanity. If we just try, we can do it," said one child in Norway.
- Take responsibility: "The large industrial countries are the real causes of the pollution, and the small countries bear the consequences of that," observed a girl from Eritrea, living in Egypt.
- Act with urgency: "You can still take action, you can save it. But it is now or never," said a girl in a Latin America regional dialogue.
The world’s policy and decision makers have the opportunity in the weeks ahead to bring these simple but powerful principles to life. Through combining them with the catalytic power of hope, a path can, and must, be forged out of this moment of crisis, towards a greener and more just future. This is what children are demanding. They cannot be ignored.