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Policy advocacy and partnerships for children's rights

Climate change heats up threats to children

By James Elder

FLORENCE, Italy, 5 December 2012 - When Superstorm Sandy ravaged areas from the Caribbean to the mid-Atlantic and northeastern United States of America at the end of October, more and more people eyed climate change as a cause of the calamity.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-2134/Maitum
Rossie Caipan, 21, holds her 1-year-old son Clifford in an evacuation centre in Carmen Village in the storm-affected coastal city of Cagayán de Oro in Northern Mindanao Region, Philippines. Major weather events like Tropical Storm Washi in December 2011 are making it increasingly clear that the climate is changing - and children are disproportionately affected.

For, although it is impossible to establish one cause of the storm, Sandy was yet another extreme event, part of a pattern that increasingly can, indeed, be attributed to climate change.

Meanwhile, The Emissions Gap Report 2012 – A UNEP Synthesis Report, released last week, says that the world is straying further away from commitments to combat climate change, making achieving goals to mitigate global warming by the end of the century that much more beyond reach.

The report’s warning was timely, as delegates from 194 countries were preparing to meet for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar, which opened last Monday.
UNICEF’s Office of Research recently held The Debate: Climate change and children to look at the science, politics, impact – and the next generation.

What we are leaving our children

Children are disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of climate change. And they are its heirs.

In The Debate, head of the Nigerian Youth Climate Coalition Esther Agbarakwe says, “Too often, the elders feel that they have the monopoly of knowledge on issues like this. But right now we are seeing a lot of children calling out to tell the world how climate is impacting them.”

They cry out about increased malnutrition and disease, displacement and migration. They cry out about increasing poverty.

And they cry out about the future they are inheriting. Stern Review: The economics of climate change concludes that ignoring climate change could eventually  “create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, later in this century and in the next, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century.”

The Debate: Climate change and children looks at the science, politics, impact – and the next generation.


“This is just the tip of the iceberg – the future is going to be extremes beyond our imagination,” says Head of Programme, Climate Change, Environment and Forests at the Overseas Institute of Development Dr. Tom Mitchell during The Debate.

Where there is hope

The effects of climate change can be mitigated, if action is taken now.  And action has begun. Says Senior Fellow in the Climate Change Group at the International Institute for Environment and Development Saleem Ul Huq, “I would characterize the least developed countries as probably being the most proactive on this issue. They’ve all carried out assessments of climate change impact and national adaptation plans, which many of them are now implementing. For example, the Government of Bangladesh has already invested in the order of US$300 million in implementing it, so they’re not waiting for the rest of the world to come to their rescue. They’re doing what they can, themselves.”

Climate change represents a challenge unlike any the world has ever faced. But it also creates an opportunity for billions of people to act with a shared mission, on a planetary scale. “And therefore,” says Mr. Ul Huq, “there is a solution. People in rich countries, as well as rich people in poor countries, all have a carbon footprint, as do the poor, though much less. If your footprint is higher than the global average, then you must know your lifestyle leaves a victim, and you must respond accordingly.”

The climate is changing. Time is running out. Everyone must decrease her or his footprint. Countries must honour their commitments.

And children must not be forgotten. They must be empowered to protect themselves and to innovate.

And everyone must raise her or his voice.

To raise your voice, watch and read more on climate change here.



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