From Most Vulnerable to Most Valuable: Placing Child Rights at the Heart of Climate Action

Youth, Children, Education, and Skills Day at the ongoing COP28 in Dubai

08 December 2023
Valerie Naluyima, a youth climate change activist speaks at the presentation of a statement on Climate Action for the Africa Climate Summit delegates representing Uganda, at the UNICEF Uganda head office.
UNICEF Uganda/2023/Balikuddembe
Valerie Naluyima, a youth climate change activist speaks at the presentation of a statement on Climate Action for the Africa Climate Summit delegates representing Uganda, at the UNICEF Uganda head office. Ahead of the African Climate Summit and COP28, children and youth representatives in Uganda met with government representatives on 29th August 2023 to submit a statement and call to action to their leaders to take immediate and firm action on the climate crisis

KAMPALA, 8 December 2023:- With the world’s attention firmly fixed on the ongoing 28th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, colloquially referred to as COP28, children and youth are set to take center stage at an expert intergenerational dialogue to be held on December 8 during COP28's Youth, Children, Education, and Skills Day: "From Most Vulnerable to Most Valuable: Placing Child Rights at the Heart of Climate Action."

This event will present the latest evidence and data on how climate change disproportionately affects children, as well as new and significant guidance from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on how states can respect, promote, and consider child rights in climate action.

It is being hosted by the UAE COP28 Presidency and the United Nations Children’s Agency (UNICEF), in partnership with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

For the first time, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has explicitly affirmed children’s rights to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment in the General Comment No. 26, which specifies that States are responsible not only for protecting children’s rights from immediate harm but also for foreseeable violations of their rights in the future due to States’ acts—or failure to act—today. Furthermore, the comment, which was published on August 28 this year, underlines that states can be held accountable not only for environmental harm occurring within their borders but also for the harmful impacts of environmental damage and climate change beyond their borders. Particular attention is to be paid to the disproportionate harm faced by children in disadvantaged situations.

UNICEF Uganda has sponsored Youth Go Green, a youth-led umbrella organisation of Ugandan youth engaged in climate change, resilience, green growth, and youth empowerment activities, to participate in this event at COP28.

The Team leader and CEO of Youth Go Green, Mr. Edwin Muhumuza, expressed his excitement to be part of such a dialogue, which can help shape the discourse around child rights in climate action for the foreseeable future.

 "The climate crisis is not merely changing the planet; as its impact intensifies over time, it is the children and young people who face the worst effects. Despite being at the forefront of its impacts, we, the young generation, are not passive victims. Instead, we are raising our voices and fighting back like never before. We are the last generation that can and will end climate change. The onus is on us now!" Edwin Muhumuza, CEO and Team Leader, Youth Go Green.

In a similar thread of youth making their voices heard, earlier this year, Ugandan youth called for their empowerment towards informed action, carrying out more engagements, and becoming catalysts for change.

The call emanated from the findings of a poll of almost 7,500 young people in Uganda aged 24 years and below who identify themselves as U-Reporters.

The 613,000 Ugandan U-Reporters respond to polls, report issues, and support child rights. The data and insights are shared back with U-Report participants, so they are empowered to work for change and improvements in their localities themselves, as well as being connected to key stakeholders, service providers, and policymakers who make decisions that affect young people and communities. 

In May this year, well ahead of COP28, the U-Reporters were engaged and asked to share their experience with the climate change crisis to inform UNICEF's and partners' advocacy efforts at the conference. Out of almost 7,500 respondents, 35 per cent called on world leaders to focus on investing in climate education and awareness, while 28 per cent feel that youth should be empowered as catalysts for change within their communities and beyond.

“Think about future generations. Think about the diseases that are breaking out due to climate change. Have empathy for the vulnerable people in rural areas. And most importantly, don't act like immortals,” one 24-year-old female respondent said.

“Bring about policies that are aimed at controlling the destruction of wetlands and forests and how to engage the youth in the struggle to restore and conserve nature,” underscored another respondent.

"Young people, with their unwavering determination, stand as true heroes in spearheading the charge to address the profound impact of climate change. Whether echoing their call for climate action on the streets or passionately advocating in meeting rooms, they embody a force for change that demands our collective attention. The urgency of the situation requires that we go above and beyond, ensuring that every child and young person comprehends the pressing challenges that loom over their future. It is imperative that we empower them to not only grasp the gravity of this predicament but also inspire and equip them to actively participate in crafting sustainable solutions to navigate through this crisis," emphasized Dr. M. Munir A. Safieldin, the UNICEF Representative to Uganda.

Beyond COP28, UNICEF is calling on parties to take action to protect the lives, health, and well-being of children, including by adapting essential social services, empowering every child to be a champion for the environment, and fulfilling international sustainability and climate change agreements, including rapidly reducing emissions. 

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U-Report is a free UNICEF-supported messaging platform that empowers young people and communities around the world to engage with and speak out on issues that matter to them. It works by gathering opinions and information from young people and communities on topics they care about, ranging from employment to health and child marriage. 

U-Report is active in ninety-six countries, benefiting over thirty million users.

SMS polls and alerts are sent out to U-Reporters, and real-time response information is collected. Results and ideas are shared with the community.

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