Climate change is a children’s rights crisis and we need to act now- OpEd by UNICEF UK's Youth Advisory Board

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12 November 2021 – “We are UNICEF UK’s Youth Advisory Board and strive to ensure children and young people are placed at the heart of discussions that affect us the most. Despite being the least responsible for climate change, we are disproportionately affected, and future generations will continue to be unfairly affected by the decisions made today about how to protect our planet.

Climate change is an existential threat to our safety, our homes, and our very way of life.  The rights of all children are set out by The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and climate change neither respects nor upholds our rights. That is why we are taking a stand. Climate change compounds inequalities where disasters destroy schools and wash away homes, disrupting our access to education whilst displacing families. It exacerbates political instability, affecting our ability to thrive and increases the transmission seasons for diseases like malaria, infringing on our right to be healthy. We hope readers understand that fighting climate change isn’t just about reducing carbon emissions and renewable energy – it is about children, preventing the destruction of systems and infrastructure that keeps them safe whilst allowing them to reach their full potential.

This is why the climate crisis is a child rights crisis. If changes aren’t made now, the situation will only worsen and further infringe upon our rights , ultimately affecting our ability to survive and thrive. The voices of children and young people need to be heard, and not only listened to but respected and used to make tangible change. The way people respond to how children’s rights are impacted by climate change is a reflection of how the world views young people. We are not helpless, yet sometimes it feels as though we are, especially when our opinions and voices are seen as less valuable. The only way the rights of young people can be properly upheld is if young people are consulted and given the opportunity to advocate for ourselves. Young people belong where important decisions are made, but often we aren’t even in the room.

As members of UNICEF UK’s Youth Advisory Board (YAB), we identified climate change as one of the foremost issues affecting the futures of children. This has led us to speak on this topic to leaders, businesses, and the media across our term. Most recently we engaged in a panel discussion with the CEO and CSO of the all-electric Formula E motorsport at the London E-Prix. Our discussion centered around environment as well as our voice and hopes for COP26. A member of the YAB also recently took part in a conversation on climate with Mary Robinson, former Irish President and Chair of the Elders. She was also joined with climate activists Nkosi and Priyanka from Zimbabwe and Trinidad and Tobago respectively. The ways in which large polluting countries like the UK contribute to climate change which disproportionately impacts countries in the Global South was explored in this conversation alongside the power the UK has to make a positive difference if we act to tackle the problem.

There is hope for the future, but only if change is made rapidly. As children and young people, we inherit the climate crisis but we cannot solve it alone. We know young people will feel the effects of the climate crisis most keenly, therefore we need to be at the forefront of decision making. This means not only being consulted in relation to climate change legislation, but being the target of investment and support to engineer new solutions. COP26 is an opportunity to highlight the essential role we need to play.

We believe that you don’t have to give up everything we love doing but find sustainable alternatives. However, we need to find ways in which young people can be part of the solution – we are visionaries and innovators, thinkers and do’ers at the forefront —engineering new technologies to reconcile the effects of climate change.

We also believe that there is a strong need to shift the climate conversation onto corporate accountability, rather than consumer choice, which while important, is not the cause of the majority of climate change. We hope that at COP26, specific and binding legislation is passed to promote the innovation of sustainable business practices, and protect the planet for future generations to live on. It is our hope that decisions can be made collaboratively, between larger countries who contribute more towards climate change, and smaller countries that are disproportionately affected by it, so that a solution that benefits our people and our planet can be found. The Youth Advisory Board notes the UK can foremost set an example to other countries, by championing youth engagement and signing the YOUNGO declaration.

Young people are the generation of the future, and we still have so much potential to achieve. This is the generation that will lead the world on. We don’t want to give future generations a world that is polluted and dying, we want the future of our planet to be healthy, clean and thriving. Which one do you want to give us?

The climate crisis is a child’s right crisis. Are you listening to our warning?

Act now.”

For more information, please contact:

Unicef UK Media Team, 0207 375 6030, media@unicef.org.uk

About UNICEF

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

The UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK) raises funds for UNICEF’s emergency and development work for children. We also promote and protect children’s rights in the UK and internationally. We are a UK charity, entirely funded by supporters.

United Kingdom Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK), Registered Charity No. 1072612 (England & Wales), SC043677 (Scotland).

For more information visit unicef.org.uk. Follow UNICEF UK on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube.

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