Futures of Congo Basin’s 95m children at risk from climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss - UNICEF

Leaders gather at the Three Basins Summit in central Africa to discuss climate goals and safeguard biodiversity

27 October 2023
A classroom in a tree house in the middle of a body of water
UNICEF 2023/Mulala

BRAZZAVILLE, 27 October 2023 – The 95 million children living in the Congo basin, one of the world’s major tropical forest areas, are highly vulnerable to the triple crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental pollution, and their needs must be prioritised in climate financing and environmental protection decisions made at the Three Basins Summit this week, UNICEF warned today.

The Amazon, Congo, and Borneo-Mekong-Southeast Asia forest basins - which account for 80 per cent of the world’s tropical forests and two-thirds of terrestrial biodiversity – are important for people everywhere, as they play a critical role in capturing global carbon emissions and regulating the climate.

But they are also important for the millions of children who live there. These children are physically more vulnerable than adults to the climate hazards that threaten their communities, and risk a lifetime of lost opportunity if their lives and livelihoods are not protected. And yet, just 2.4 per cent of key global climate funds can be classified as supporting child-responsive programmes around the world.

“The climate crisis is a child rights crisis,” said Felicité Tchibindat, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “To ensure a liveable planet for our world’s children, these three tropical forest basins must have a climate response that puts the rights of children first as the principal victims of a crisis they have in no way caused. Children and young people are playing a pivotal role in bringing these issues to the world’s attention, including here in the Republic of Congo. And yet, so little of climate financing is focused on their needs, including climate-resilient social services, environmental education and clean water.”

The Children’s Climate Risk Index shows four out of six countries in the Congo forest basin rank as “extremely high risk” – four countries home to an estimated 71.7 million children. Risks include environmental pollution, particularly in a part of the world where diseases linked to contaminated water, such as diarrhoea, are a leading cause of death in children under 5.

“The Congo forest basin is a precious resource that benefits every person on this planet,’’ added Tchibindat. “Any climate response that fails to include the voice, needs and ideas of children and adolescents is an injustice, and lacks the most important means to succeed. They must be involved as part of the solution today, as they will inherit the world we leave behind tomorrow.’’

UNICEF is calling for countries attending the Summit to:

  1. PROTECT every child by ensuring child-critical services – including water and sanitation, health, education, social protection, and child protection – are adapted and made resilient to the growing impacts of climate change.
     
  2. PREPARE every child and young person to live in a climate-changed world by improving their adaptive capacities, ensuring their voices are heard and acted on, and their education and skills are enhanced so they can participate in creating policymaking and creating solutions for a liveable planet and a sustainable future.
     
  3. PRIORITIZE children and young people in climate investments and resources, and urgently provide new and additional climate finance which places children’s rights and child-critical social services at the forefront, with a particular focus on reaching the children most at risk.

Children and young people attending the Summit plan to issue a statement calling for education focused on environmental protection, green skills so they can contribute to their economies, and effective national governance to address environmental and climate challenges. Furthermore, they are calling for a global strategy to stimulate green investments and preserve biodiversity for the children and young people living in the basins, and for the world.

“We want to be heard and help develop solutions. This is a call to all stakeholders who are ready to partner with us in the fight against climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental degradation. It is time to join hands to save our planet,” said Emmanuel Jidisa, UNICEF Youth Advocate on Climate in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"We advocate for the recognition of children and young people's contribution to the fight against climate change. Our goal is to promote inclusive and sustainable climate action and build a generation of skilled climate-responsible adults to protect our basins for generations to come," said Tamarah Boussamba, UNICEF Climate Advocate in Gabon.

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