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Our future is at stake: children share their biggest fears about climate change

26 October 2021 – Leaders must act now to prevent catastrophic climate change from destabilising the future of young people around the world, children warned today ahead of COP26.

Child campaigners from Norway, Sri Lanka and Zambia said time was running out to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels and prevent an ‘intergenerational injustice’. 

Recent research released by Save the Children and the Vrije Universiteit Brussels (VUB) found that children born in 2020 will face far more heatwaves, floods, droughts and wildfires than their grandparents under emission reduction pledges agreed in Paris in 2015. Children in lower- and middle-income countries, and disadvantaged communities, will be worst affected, the report said. 

Dilmani, 14, from Sri Lanka, said: “I often see the impacts of climate change in my country – whether it’s drought, flooding or landslides. Often, this means children can’t go to school as they can’t physically get there. We can see first-hand here how climate change is already having an impact on education. This makes me sad as education is a basic need – it’s our future.”

Emanuel, 14, is a climate activist and part of a children’s climate panel in Norway. He said:

“We children are maybe not climate-scientists, but we know something important. We must act now! Before it’s too late, then we will regret. The leaders today have the future of mankind on their shoulders, our future.”

The climate crisis is a child rights crisis, Save the Children argues. It is reshaping our world with grave implications for today’s children and future generations. 

According to Save the Children and VUB’s report, Born into the Climate Crisis: why we must act now to secure children’s rights, children born last year will on average face seven times more scorching heatwaves; 2.6 times as many droughts; 2.8 times as many river floods; almost three times as many crop failures; and twice the number of wildfires in comparison with those born 60 years ago.

Many children across the world are already feeling the effects of the climate crisis. Thirteen-year-old Bailasan* and her family live in a town in North East Syria where drought, low river levels and damaged infrastructure have deprived millions of water. Because of this water crisis, Bailasan’s family has not been able to gather any harvest in four years. Along with other families in the area, they are seriously considering leaving to find new land. 

Bailasan misses the nature she grew up with, saying it has been ruined by the drought: “The vegetation was so beautiful before. There were pomegranate and olive trees here. There was also a big blueberry tree. We were eating its fruits. My father used to put swings on the trees and my siblings and I used to play on them but now it is all gone because Al Khabour (river) has no water. 

All my memories are gone with those trees,” Bailasan added. “No water is left that vegetation can feed on. It has all dried up.

Without drastic mitigation action led by high-income and high-emitting countries to reduce emissions and limit warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, it is children who will be burdened with the most dangerous impacts of the climate crisis, the child campaigners said.  

According to Save the Children, action should be informed by the best interests of children who have inherited a problem that is not of their own making. 

The children’s warning comes weeks after the UN Human Rights Council adopted ground-breaking resolutions recognising access to a clean and healthy environment as a fundamental right; and establishing a new UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change. 

Leading public health experts have also warned of growing mental health concerns for children and young people worried about the environment. 

Kit Vaughn, Senior Climate Change Advisor at Save the Children, said: 

“Every day the children we work with tell us that leaders are not doing enough to limit catastrophic climate change and that they need to see more action. Children, particularly those from lower-income countries, have contributed the least to the climate crisis, yet they will continue to suffer the most. 

"The UN has said this is a code red for humanity – we believe it is especially a code red for children.  However, children who are most affected continue to have the least voice and representation. Leaders need to listen and respond to children’s concerns and do everything they can to protect their futures. 

“This COP represents one of the final opportunities to get the climate emergency under control and stabilise rising temperatures. COP26 will either be defined by its ambition and leadership for drastic climate action, or by its failure to listen to children and protect their futures.

As hosts of the summit, the UK government has privileged access and a global responsibility. Save the Children says it must be bold and put children’s rights and voices at the heart of the climate change agenda. The children’s charity is calling on the UK and all governments to accelerate their commitments to limit warming to 1.5°C, take serious action on financing and scale up support for adaptation. Governments need to ensure that children are present and included at this critical juncture- not just to inspire action but to shape decisions that will affect them most


Note to the Editor:

Children’s recommendations for leaders at COP26:

  • Decision-makers should take all information that they receive about climate change into account.  
  • Reduce fossil fuels and move towards renewable and green energy.  
  • Governments should give more support to communities to cut pollution and fossil fuel use, and make sure that green and renewable energy alternatives are accessible for all people to use. 
  • We need to make sure that every child’s rights are recognised at all times.  
  • Children are the leaders of tomorrow, and their voices always need to be respected and included in decisions on climate.

These recommendations were developed by a dedicated Child Reference Group, comprised of 12 children aged between 12–17 years old. For their full recommendations, please refer to pages 40-45 of Save the Children’s Born into the Climate Crisis: why we must act now to secure children’s rights report.

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