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COP26: Empty words and not enough action show children and youth not being heard 

Glasgow, 13 November 2021 – Outcomes from the COP26 climate summit demonstrate that leaders are not doing enough for children and youth beyond empty words, with what was hoped to be ‘the most inclusive COP ever’ the exact opposite, Save the Children said today, as talks in Glasgow come to a close.

Dorothy Kazombo Mwale, a youth climate activist from Malawi, said: “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.”

Since COP26 negotiations started two weeks ago, more than 5 million babies have been born into a world where they will face seven times as many heatwaves, 2.6 more droughts, and three times as many crop failures as their grandparents, the child rights organisation said[i]. These extreme weather events disproportionately impact children in lower income countries, as well as those already experiencing inequality and discrimination.

Kirsty McNeill, Executive Director of Policy, Advocacy and Campaign at Save the Children, said:

It’s encouraging to see a mention of children’s rights and intergenerational equity in the final text of COP26. But over the past two weeks as leaders have been talking, five million babies have been born. Those children and the ones who’ve been marching and campaigning around the world don’t need more words – they need urgent action.

“It is deeply regrettable that the U.K. government decided to come into this summit cutting aid and withholding vaccine doses. While the Prime Minister could have shown Global Britain at its best, I’m afraid the necessary leadership to crack the crises facing our world has been sorely lacking”. 

According to Save the Children’s recent report with Vrije Universiteit Brussels, if warming is limited to 1.5 degrees C, the additional lifetime exposure of newborns to heatwaves will drop by 45%; by 39% for droughts; and by 28% for crop failures[ii]. Earlier this week, analysis warned that even with new pledges, including those made in Glasgow, global greenhouse gas emissions cuts are not ambitious enough to keep to the crucial 1.5C limit in sight[iii].

“The importance of limiting global temperatures to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels is mentioned in the text, but a clear test of tangible commitments and the process to get there is missing in action. How is it that we’re not much further along than the place we started at two weeks ago? Without addressing the climate crisis head on, we will be abandoning children all over the world to lives full of insecurity and instability.” said McNeill.

COP26 has failed to address the injustice of loss and damage, Save the Children added. High income countries and historical emitters urgently need to support the development of new and additional funds to address rapidly escalating loss and damage, as well as the creation of a new climate finance mechanism for loss and damage by 2023. 

McNeill continued, “High-income countries that have economically benefitted 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 much stronger commitment for climate adaptation. This may sound like we are asking a lot – but when we compare this to ongoing subsidies to the fossil fuel industry it really is affordable. Our leaders must act like responsible adults and make some tough choices.  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.”

Other climate finance commitments have also fallen far too short, and failed to strike enough of a balance between mitigation and adaptation funding, according to Save the Children. For many countries, the human and financial costs of adapting are rising, and they cannot afford to wait any longer.

All this comes against a backdrop of the most exclusive COP ever – despite assurances that it would be the most inclusive, Save the Children said.

Dorothy Kazombo Mwale, a youth climate activist from Malawi, said: “The fact that COP26 was not youth inclusive made it difficult for us to voice our thoughts and influence decisions that can actually bring about the outcome that we need.”

McNeill said: “As we write, 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 are not 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.”

McNeill added, “Children and young people have told us themselves that their voices and experiences have not been heard in Glasgow. The children on the frontline of the climate crisis should have been systematically included in COP26 – this requires careful forethought and planning to be truly ‘child friendly’. Over the past two weeks and beyond, young people have been telling us: this is our future at stake. From calling on the UN to declare the climate crisis an emergency, to taking countries to court for not doing enough to tackle this crisis – children know their rights and are refusing to back down. They want more than token opportunities to raise their voices – they want opportunities to influence and take action.

“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.”


For more information contact media@savethechildren.org.uk / +44(0)7831 650409

[i] Based on methodology used in Born into the Climate Crisis, and UN estimates that there are, on average,  140 million births per year

[ii] Born into the Climate Crisis: Why we must act now to secure children’s rights | Resource Centre (savethechildren.net)

[iii] Glasgow’s one degree 2030 credibility gap: net zero’s lip service to climate action | Climate Action Tracker