Conclusion: An inspiring vision for Global Britain
The essays in this collection demonstrate that despite the many challenges children face there remains an exceptional opportunity confronting the world in 2021. The UK sits in an unusually influential position to lead and inspire transformative change for children everywhere – creating an opportunity to cement the UK’s status as a leading force for good in the world.
Global Britain and child rights
Amidst the many challenges faced since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it could be easy to forget the rich capacity for global solutions we have before us. This affords us a choice – do we revert to business as usual post-pandemic? Or do we act decisively and collectively to build a better, fairer, more equitable and inclusive world for every child?
Our essay collection seeks to inspire a more radical vision of “Global Britain”, with children and future generations at its heart. Despite the reduction in aid from 0.7% of GNI, the UK government retains the capacity to set an ambitious agenda within its forthcoming International Development strategy. One that harnesses the UK’s diplomatic, aid and humanitarian endeavours to uphold the rights of every child, everywhere.
This strategy can bring people of all political perspectives together behind a shared mission and belief; a belief that a truly Global Britain can lead the way to a better world for future generations. After the divisions and debate regarding the UK’s role on the global stage and the suffering of the pandemic, there is surely one thing above all else that can bring us together – our deep care for our children and young people who have faced enormous difficulties in recent years. Those same children who have inspired and challenged us with their strength, resilience, and activism. The challenges they, and their children, will face are problems without borders. We must face them together and that is why a vision for Britain must be truly Global.
An influential position
Throughout the pandemic there has been much talk about “building back better”, but less clarity about what that means for children. How can we create a better world post-pandemic? Where will the decisions be made that determine the shape of that world? The answer is that 2021 presents a unique opportunity to take a stand on behalf of children and leave the world better than we found it. It is a year of opportunities where world leaders and thinkers will be making vital decisions that will shape our children’s future.
If the right choices are made in 2021, the future can be different: more sustainable, fairer, safer, and more hopeful. The UK is hosting three summits and has a key role to play in many others this year. It is a chance for the UK Government to put its considerable diplomatic weight behind a real chance for change, to turn the challenges and suffering of the pandemic into a positive future for every child.
The G7 leaders’ summit ensured that post-pandemic recovery and climate change are central to the 2021 agenda and made initial commitments to vaccinating the world and to a zero-carbon future. However, there is far more to be done to prevent things getting worse, let alone to build a better future. The authors of our essays show us how much more we can achieve and how much more ambitious we can be.
The Global Education Summit (UK, 28/9 July) will create the possibility to deliver commitment to investing in our young people, rebuilding the education systems that have been hit so hard by the pandemic; embracing an inclusive, connected, digital future; building the skills and aptitudes that the next generation will need to meet the opportunities arising from 21st century technology and to solve the problems that previous generations have given to them.
The Food Systems Summit (New York, September) enables us to envisage a future in which no-one goes hungry despite increasing population and a changing climate. While at Nutrition for Growth, the Japanese Government will build on an initiative started in London to tackle malnutrition. As we witness a dramatic worsening of world hunger as a result of the pandemic there can be no more telling measure of our humanity than whether or not we address the damage caused to the world’s children by malnutrition.
Decisions at COP26 (Glasgow, November) will determine whether the world will tackle the challenge of a changing climate or face the existential threat of environmental destruction. It is a chance to listen to the calls of a generation of children and young people and build forward with justice, equality and sustainability.
The UK Government can use these moments to build renewed global consensus behind children’s rights. By ensuring every decision it makes and every policy it embraces is determined by answering the question “what is best for our children and future generations?” it can put forward an ambitious vision for the future and make lasting change for future generations.
The challenges we face
1.3 billion people are multidimensionally poor and of these, half are children. The pandemic may have driven hundreds of millions more to be newly impoverished, rolling back decades of progress. But this pandemic can be a catalyst for positive progress, it need not reverse the great progress that has been made in recent decades in overcoming poverty. On the contrary it should be a driver, a wake-up call, the basis for a new determination to build a better world for today’s children and tomorrow’s generations. 2021 offers the platform for the UK Government to seize that opportunity as a central part of it’s vision for “Global Britain”. To consolidate a new paradigm that can make this year a turning point towards ending acute poverty in all its forms.
We are still on a trajectory towards global heating of more than 3°C however. And as Sanda Ojiambo highlights, this existential threat will be our legacy to the world’s children – and their children – unless we collectively change direction now. Our intergenerational conversation on climate could be a template for that change of direction. Young people around the world have been leading a new movement to ensure they can inherit a liveable world. Their energy, their passion for change; their wisdom and their ideas can be the foundation for progress if only we listen and act. As Priyanka (a 14-year-old from Trinidad and Tobago) tells us: “I feel eagerness to make the change. It’s up to me, it’s up to the young people. It’s our time to shine, to step up. We feel stronger together because we support each other to fight climate change”.
If we fail to meet the challenges of global poverty and climate change, millions more people around the world will suffer as natural disasters and conflicts drive them to flee from unsustainable environments, to become climate refugees, economic migrants, and victims of war.
It is in this context that the care, support and protection of children, particularly in the most insecure and hardest-to-reach places, is so critical. Yet as Elhadj As Sy tells us, the humanitarian response is desperately inadequate. Global humanitarian needs are estimated at $35 billion in 2021, but only $17 billion have been mobilized. While child refugees are yearning to live a normal, peaceful life it is investment in children in fragile settings that will reap significant dividend, seeding greater cohesion, peace and development.
The opportunities ahead
As the pandemic has disrupted childhood immunisation, we are reminded of the acute threat to children’s health being faced this year. But the reality is a child’s health and wellbeing is not only determined by the provision of health services alone. Children everywhere are suffering from the ill effects of the climate crisis; inequality and poverty; disease and malnutrition; inadequate housing, social protection or education; and harmful commercial marketing. By placing children at the centre of all policies and action, we can protect and enhance the health and well-being of all the world’s children. Indeed, by placing children at the heart of the UK International Development strategy through the formation of a child rights hub and a complementary child rights framework, the UK Government can be at the forefront of this agenda globally.
For Kitaoka Shinichi, a central aspect of this chance to put children at the centre is for the global community and each country, to establish a social system that protects children from malnutrition. While COVID-19 is estimated to have pushed up to 132 million more people into hunger by the end of 2020, we can still act decisively to reverse such worsening malnutrition trends. But to do so, countries must join forces for a coordinated response.
Perhaps the greatest opportunity to build a better world derives from our capacity to invest in the right of every child to a quality education. The world has made that commitment central to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but the pandemic is driving us backwards as billions have missed out on school. As David Sengeh says “children around the world have lost an average of one-third of a year’s education and this generation of students stand to lose an estimated $10 trillion in earnings”. Investing in education is the key to future peace and prosperity for all and for David Sengeh, this means we must adopt a policy of “radical inclusion” to ensure that no child fails to fulfil their potential because poverty, gender, and disability act as barriers to education.
Children must have the opportunity to learn the skills to be active citizens in our global community – digital skills, critical thinking, creativity, interpersonal skills, respect, and social and emotional skills. Moreover, by 2030, a fifth of the world’s population will live in Africa. Every year, tens of millions more young people from the continent join the labour market. Every child needs the right support to find the skills and training that allow them to realise their potential. As Mo Ibrahim says, “young citizens in Africa crave opportunities”. Whether it’s in the digital economy, the green transition, resources, energy or infrastructure, Africa and Africans have a crucial role to play.
The 2021 Global Education Summit offers a unique moment to commit to investing in the future of our children, to make clear that nothing – even a pandemic – can tear apart our commitment to the rights and futures of every child. The world needs a Global Britain that puts education, built on the foundations of children’s rights and the principles of radical inclusion, at the heart of its vision.
The solutions in front of us
As Sanda Ojiambo points out, the world now faces two possible roads ahead: a deeply flawed business as usual; or a global economy that protects people, the planet and the natural systems that sustain us. Business as usual is not an option. Businesses can also share the vision of a better world, post pandemic. Indeed, only by supporting a green, inclusive recovery can companies secure their own survival and our collective future. The choice between a liveable planet and a healthy global economy is false. Taking climate action is the best way to build more resilient businesses, communities and societies.
Beyond environmental preservation, our prospects for global stability, peace and security are at stake. The journey out of the pandemic can take us to a safer, more equitable world that spares today’s young people and their children from the most catastrophic effects of climate change. But the threats of potential shortages of food, water, and natural resources – and transitioning to low carbon energy – can’t be solved by each nation separately. We need to think globally, and long-term, empowered by 21st century technology and guided by values. Global Britain can help mobilise the international community around a new vision that harnesses science, and the energy of the young, to build a safer, sustainable, just and equitable society that can look ahead with hope to a better future for children growing up in the 21st century.
The UK is a leading proponent of the mutual benefits of trade and this has been a central theme in its Global Britain concept. But, as Senator Casey says “trade has winners and losers. The losses from trade tend to disproportionately impact already marginalized communities, workers, and their children. Policymakers must do more to recognize these disruptive forces and take mitigating action to support communities”. Ensuring fair terms of trade is essential to the effort to build a better future globally.
We ought to consider policy, including trade policy, through a simple frame: “how will this benefit a nation’s children?” This question should be our compass as we rebuild our global economic system around the principles of fairness, and embark on a long journey to protect, nurture and educate the world’s children.
Finally, the pandemic, the climate crisis and global poverty and inequality all show that we need a multilateral approach if we are to protect the world’s children. In putting forward the case for Global Britain as a multilateralist global soft power, Kul Gautam shows how the UK Government can utilise the collective power of multilateral cooperation to build a brighter future for future generations. By maintaining a focus on children within multilateral fora the UK can maximise its unique opportunity and position itself as a champion of bold actions in support of the world’s children.
Taken together these 11 essays speak to us all with a powerful and united voice. The authors are telling us that the world now faces a binary choice between reverting to business-as-usual post-pandemic or acting decisively to build a better world.
In the former case, we would continue with deep global inequality, widespread poverty and malnutrition, and worsening damage to the environment on which we all depend. If we choose the latter path, we can tackle climate change, meet the SDGs, eliminate extreme poverty and protect global health.
Today’s children and young people know which path they would choose for themselves and the next generation. If we listen to them, bring their perspectives and ideas to the fore, and decide that the impact on their wellbeing is the true test of all our policies and decisions, we can only choose the right path.
The decision by the UK Government to reduce international aid spending complicates this picture, as this means less resource committed to the world’s children, programmes have been stopped and vital support has been reduced. For every pound cut, children living in some of the world’s worst crises and conflicts could suffer the consequences, with fewer children able to attend school, receive life-saving food and access critical healthcare services. Now is the time to step up and ensure that they do not shoulder this burden and it is critical that the UK Government charts a clear path back to delivering its life-saving aid commitment. As the new International Development strategy is finalised, decisions made now will have a huge bearing on the future for many of the world’s children. That is why the UK Government’s vision for Global Britain must have both child rights and multilateral cooperation at its core.