Children first victims of climate change

It seems every day brings news of another “natural disaster”. However, there is very little “natural” about the disasters hitting children around the world. As the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change make plain, floods, droughts and other disasters link directly to climate change, with others bearing the direct consequences of our carbon-rich lifestyle of the past 150 years. One can all too easily grow weary of the bad news and constant pleas for help, to the point of wondering why “someone” can’t just sort it all out.

The tragic consequences of climate change for the world’s poorest children are laid bare in a report this week — 10 years after the Kyoto protocol was signed — by UNICEF UK: Our Climate, Our Children, Our Responsibility. Children, especially in Africa and Asia, face a future in which disasters, conflict and disease will be ever more frequent and severe. Clean water will become harder to access and incomes will fall, leading inexorably to increased child poverty, inequality and death. Climate change could increase child deaths in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia by as many as 160,000 a year.

Lack of water, lack of food, increased disease, less education, less protection and reduced life chances — all of which will afflict them for the rest of their lives — lead inexorably to one lost generation after another, as no-go areas spring up around the globe. Is that what we really want? UNICEF is already working with children and their communities to adapt to climate change, but more is required — and urgently. Work to help communities prepare for disasters will need to scale up as they become more frequent and severe. Work to address diminishing water supplies will have to be intensified as water becomes ever more scarce. Programmes to prevent and treat malaria will need to expand and improve.

Health and education initiatives for children displaced by food shortages, storms and other disasters will need to be developed to deal with previously unimagined levels of

threat. This is not just about more development. It’s about doing development differently. It means planning for climate change, rather than just responding to it: connecting with children, and empowering them to act before an emergency. Children have to become agents of change, not simply helpless victims — after all, this is about their future and they deserve a platform from which to learn and speak out.

We need to work quickly to ensure that the implications of climate change for children are firmly on the agenda at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen at the end of next year, and that children’s voices are heard and listened to. Over time we will all need to adapt to climate change — but while for many of us that might mean a heavier raincoat, a new sweater,

or lowering the central heating by a notch, for the world’s children this requires a much bigger response to ensure the continuation of their lives and their livelihoods.

From the government to the private sector to individuals, all must take action to boost our emissions reduction target. Even that crucial commitment is not enough. While we reduce our emissions, every one of us also needs to start to contribute to the costs that others

already face in adapting to climate change. — The Guardian