Children initiate UN discussions on education and climate change
By Elizabeth Kiem and Chris Niles
NEW YORK, USA, 12 December 2007 – As policy makers and scientists from around the world discuss responses to climate change at a United Nations conference in Bali, Indonesia, young people convening for high-level meetings at UN headquarters in New York added their voices to the debate.
Children often suffer the brunt of natural disasters, disease and malnutrition in poor countries, and rising temperatures are predicted to only worsen the plight of the young, UNICEF warned in a report released today. The launch of the report and the discussions on climate change took place in the context of this week’s follow-up meeting on progress toward goals set by the 2002 UN General Assembly Special Session on Children.
“For UNICEF this is critical,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Hilde Johnson, speaking at a reception hosted by the Greek Government, which has assumed the chair of the Human Security Network and is making new, emerging threats such as climate change its sole priority.
“Climate change is not just an environmental issue,” Ms. Johnson added. “It is economic, social and human. When it comes to climate change, the poor pay more – and children most of all. They pay with their health, development and, too often, their lives.”
Towards universal quality education
Earlier in the day, Ms. Johnson presided over a forum focused on one of the key commitments adopted at the 2002 Special Session – providing universal quality education.
"When delegates met here five years ago, there were 150 million children that didn’t have their basic right to education fulfilled,” Ms. Johnson told the audience of diplomats, non-governmental organisation representatives and youth delegates. “That number has dropped [by] more than 20 million since that time,” she said, adding that the reduction is still “far from enough.”
While many member states present for the meeting detailed their governments’ commitments to universal education, other advocates emphasised the need to do more.
Young people urge school funding
“We want to push it a bit,” said the Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Dr. Yanhee Lee. “The quality of education is very important. To keep students in school is very important. To do this, there has to be better a teacher-training system, teachers need to be better paid.… Most of all, the hidden costs for schooling need to be abolished.”
Several young people addressed the meeting and urged government representatives to make education a high priority in their national budgets.
“Countries spend more in wars and military expenses,” said Ruiya Ashraf Akhter, 15, from Bangladesh. “Why do the donors and governments not invest more in early childhood education?”
Action on education in emergencies
In a related development on education in emergency situations, UNICEF and the International Save the Children Alliance have announced plans to jointly highlight the importance of providing schools and safe spaces for children during the first phase of a crisis.
The new ‘education cluster’ approach – developed in response to to calls for more effective global coordination – would also advance the priority placed on providing temporary schooling to children in displaced communities as early as possible. The active involvement of both UN agencies and NGOs is expected to strengthen the humanitarian sector’s capacity to mount a strong education response to emergencies – including increased availability of funds, people and supplies worldwide.
The ‘World Fit for Children Plus 5’ plenary meeting in the General Assembly is expected to conclude its record-setting raft of speakers later today and tomorrow with a resolution to fully implement the targets of the 2002 Special Session.