COP26 must be the COP for children

COP26 - cleanbuild

COP26 must be the COP for children

“Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing this generation, with 1 billion children at extremely high risk. Yet, while the outlook is dire, world leaders at COP26 have a significant, time-sensitive opportunity to redirect the terrible path we are on,” says UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore.

With those bold statements, the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has revealed its intention to be at the ongoing COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow.

While world leaders are reaffirming their pledge to cut back on their carbon emission, the UNICEF wants to ensure that the climate crisis is recognized as a crisis for children and their rights as well as to promote approaches to decrease climate risk for those who are most vulnerable.

According to Fore, “COP26 must be the COP for children.” Hence the need for UNICEF to step in and promote the interest of children around the world.

Climate change poses a major threat to children and young people’s health, nutrition, education, development, survival, and future potential.

Unlike adults, children need more food and water per unit of their body weight. Even with that, they are less able to survive extreme weather events, and are more susceptible to toxic chemicals, temperature changes, and diseases, among other factors.

As such, the COP26 is a significant moment that will have a bearing on current and future generations of children. In August, a UNICEF report, The Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI), shows that nearly every child on the planet is exposed to at least one climate and environmental hazards, such as air pollution, cyclones, flooding heatwaves, and water scarcity.

Africa alone is home to about 490 million children under the age of 18 in 35 who are at the highest risk of suffering the impact of climate change.

Approximately 1 billion children – nearly half the world’s children – live in 33 countries classified in the Index as “extremely high-risk”. These children face a deadly combination of exposure to multiple climates and environmental shocks with a high vulnerability due to inadequate essential services, such as water and sanitation, healthcare, and education.

As the world’s most vulnerable to climate change, UNICEF wants to support children and young people’s participation in COP26 as part of efforts to ensure their presence in climate-related decision-making.

Message to leaders at COP26

Children in communities that have contributed the least to global emissions will face the greatest impacts of climate change. Building the resilience of social services that these children will depend upon is critical to reducing the risks they will face.

To this end, governments need to:

  • Deliver on their promise to invest in climate adaptation and resilience in key services- water, sanitation and hygiene systems, health and education- for children
  • Act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Beyond mere talks, now is the time for the right climate actions.
  • Provide children with climate education and green skills, critical for their adaptation to and preparation for the effects of climate change.
  • Include young people in all national, regional, and international climate negotiations and decisions.

Despite being the major stakeholder in their outcomes of climate policies, children and young people are underrepresented in such discussions. It’s no doubt frustrating to see youths unable to influence decisions that are critical to their future because they have not been given the platform to do so.

Though young people still call for comprehensive, bold climate action from decision-makers, the action demanded has not materialized to the levels required. Will COP26 prove to be a turning point compelling world leaders to take the right climate actions? One can certainly hope so.

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