We must give children a voice in climate change decision-making

Climate change

In responding to climate change, we must look at the world through our children’s eyes.

Photo credit: Pool

Finding sustainable solutions to climate change requires everyone’s input, not just figures and experts. We must take into account what matters to all, especially children.

The recent COP27 conference was insightful to engage with different viewpoints. Unfortunately, the voices and needs of children were not amplified yet the decisions made will shape the world our children and future generations live in.

In responding to climate change, we must look at the world through our children’s eyes. Let us take time to understand what matters to them, and what they want as they grow up.

As Archana Soreng, a UN Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change member, poignantly stated, “indigenous people, local communities, young people, women and girls should be leaders of climate action and not victims of climate policies”.

This global crisis has the potential to reverse the gains in child development and poses unprecedented dangers.

Therefore, it is necessary to reimagine the world as children worldwide remain vulnerable to poorly mitigated threats inextricably tied to climate change—including hunger, disease and lack of access to education and jobs.

One of the worst droughts ever is making children and families in the Horn of Africa to go hungry. Several countries in the West African Sahel region have their worst food crisis in a decade due to droughts and floods.

These are good examples of the impact of climate change on the everyday lives of children, underscoring the urgency of the task at hand.

Notably, climate change is one of the harshest drivers of inequality, leading to increased vulnerability of children, especially those without social safeguards and safety nets.

At COP27, youth activists and various leaders highlighted the marginalisation of younger voices in climate change decision-making. Young people were, notably, given greater prominence at the forum. Solutions presented by young people should be incorporated in policy and decision-making.

Step in the right direction

The COP27 resolution introducing “loss and damage” funding for vulnerable countries hit hard by climate change is a step in the right direction. Children are among the most affected by climate disasters around the world. Part of this fund should go to addressing climate change issues affecting children.

We must also accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to green energy to protect our children’s future. Moving towards a low-carbon global economy requires massive investment and commitment from stakeholders including the public, policy-makers, regulators, businesses and governments.

Besides massive investments, we should make environmental conservation and climate change adaptation simple and practical. We can, for instance, make tree planting compulsory in schools or give the National Tree Planting Day the significance it deserves. And make energy-saving stoves more affordable for low-income communities.

We must make our cities and towns walkable, increase uptake of green energy, deliberately work to improve air and water quality and take action on entities polluting our environments. In some African cities, such as Nairobi, Dakar and Freetown, waste from households and industries is dumped in rivers, exposing children to harm and disease.

The formation of the Nairobi Rivers Commission by President William Ruto should be the first of many steps to address the disrespect for our environment and children’s health. It can be scaled up across Africa.

Local governments must also deliver on their mandate and clean up cities and towns. Society ought to join hands in environmental protection and climate change, to deliver a green sustainable future.

It is encouraging to see corporates embracing this call. For example, ChildFund with the support of The Coca-Cola Foundation and Dow Chemical, is implementing a youth- and woman-led waste management programme in Nairobi to improve cleanliness and reduce poverty in informal settlements.

But this is a drop in the ocean. Development actors, governments, corporates and others must put forward innovative solutions to protect the environment for our children.

- Mr Ngugi is ChildFund International Africa Regional Director. [email protected].