Article 12 of the UN convention on the Rights of children states that, “Children have the right to participate in decisions that affect them”. Children will be, and indeed are now experiencing the devastating consequences of climate change. The potential death of families, undernutrition, lack of fresh water, psychological trauma, forced migration, loss of house, lack of education and social facilities as well as human trafficking due to climate related disaster are the increasing threats that children face because of climate change. That affects their psychological and cognitive development as well, however, they are often overlooked in the context of national and international policy process. Therefore, in response to sustainable initiatives on climate change, child empowerment and participation is very important to ensure the next generation has the leadership skills and innovators to combat climate change.
On Wednesday 15th Nov, I watched a side-event at COP23 which aimed to emphasise the relationship between climate change and children’s rights. Cristina Colon, part of the UNICEF climate team, was the moderator of the meeting with participation from Child Fund Alliance (CFA), Plan International, Save the Children, World Vision and UNICEF to highlight the issue. The panel looked to promote and consider children’s rights, and discussed how to practically involve young people in climate action and decision-making in developing Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in different countries.
Children can, and should be, enabled to make important contributions to adaptations to both climate change and disaster risk reduction. They can do this through being involved in educating and training their peers, families and the wider community to adapt and reduce climate risk. Ms Kate Gilmore, former Deputy Commissioner and Secretary General of Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) gave the statistic of 100 million children living in circumstances that mean they are at risk of drought, 100 million children at risk of flooding events and 155 million children are at high risk of being affected by cyclones.
The 1st panel member of the meeting, Professor Cephas Lumina is an advocate of the high court of Zambia and currently a member of United Nations Committee on the Rights of Child gave us a brief overview on UN Committees, and how they involve the right of child. His briefing referenced two explicit provisions that linked human rights to the environment. The 1st provision is Article24, which deals with the right to protection and care as is necessary for their well-being, and it links to the issues of environmental pollution. The 2nd provision defines the right to environmental education as one of the goals of education. The committee have recognised the disproportionate impact of climate change and its serious implications on child rights. One important example was noted from a previous event regarding the inequality of existing productive land and fresh water which is a substantial threat for children’s health by climate change.
There are several examples of good practice of including the rights of children and young people specifically when designing climate-related legislation. Salvi Shakshi, a 10 year old girl from Fiji, gave her speech to the audience, providing a great example of how governments can encourage children to engage in climate action and creating a platform to do this creatively. However, these are few and far between, and greatly outweighed by their absence in most of global locations. Plan International has a system of youth advisory panels for consultation for all age groups. Two of the speakers were from the youth advisory project in Plan International Germany. They highlighted children’s livelihoods and vulnerabilities to climate change in their future, and the fundamental impact on planet Earth. It was suggested that there should be a 10% youth quota in future COPs, to give young people a larger scale voice in future UN negotiations.
There are many barriers for young people participating in decision making, including lack of opportunity for discussion, lack of respect and the feeling of not being taken seriously. Decisions made by young people will impact them for longer, and that’s why their opinions and respective decisions are so important. Children and young people are the most energetic, ambitious, passionate and creative group. If we can utilise at least some of this to help in the discussions surrounding climate change, then surely our ‘solutions’ will be more effective and sustainable. It is therefore critical that we enable children and young people to participation, and hear their voices during climate negotiations.