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Children are the most affected by climate change

Children are the most affected by climate change

Barbara Eckstein

Barbara Eckstein

Barbara Eckstein

We hear and read about the people of Glasgow calling for more action as world leaders gather in Glasgow for the COP26 meeting to discuss climate change.

The protests of young people were particularly loud last Friday, when their generation was supposed the focus of the meetings. Some leaders have intimated that the young people’s demands, though understandable, are unrealistic.

In contrast, the 2021 UNICEF report called “The Climate Change Crisis is a Child Rights Crisis” uses extensive evidence to describe just how real is the urgency driving the young demonstrators’ passion. This UNICEF report, which links climate change to children’s rights, is the first of its kind. It makes a compelling case for linking the two.

The report introduces the Children’s Climate Risk Index, a combination of information about climate change risks geographically located and information about vulnerabilities children experience, also geographically located. These climate change hazards include extreme heat, water scarcity and riverine flooding (Iowans are particularly familiar with this one), hurricanes, coastal flooding, as well increased presence of disease-spreading agents, soil and water pollution.

Each hazard presents its own challenges, but they often combine to magnify the impact of each other. Children’s vulnerabilities addressed in the report include inadequate access to water, sanitation and hygiene; inadequate access to health and nutrition; inadequate access to education; and, finally, poverty and lack of social protection.

On one hand, for children struggling with these vulnerabilities, climate hazards — whether intermittent shocks or unfolding trainwrecks — create a vicious cycle of decreasing resilience and yet greater vulnerability. Children who are not affected by all or most of these vulnerabilities can develop a sustained coping ability in response to climate change’s hazards, shocks, and stresses.

My words can’t convey the findings of the report with the clarity and force provided by its charts and maps and narrative. These charts and maps show, for example, which countries emit the most greenhouse gases and which have children who are most at risk.

The report is also clear on what needs to be done — besides the necessary reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. One solution is to invest in all possible ways to alleviate the vulnerabilities of the most vulnerable children. However, it is also important to listen to young people and include them in the negotiations, just as this report does.

In 1989, 195 nations signed the Convention of the Rights of the Child, acknowledging each child’s right to a life without the vulnerabilities this 2021 report elucidates — again.

“The Climate Change Crisis Is a Child Rights Crisis” is easy to access online (if not in your home, in your library), free, and an eye-opening gift to anyone who does not want to see children as valuable assets, stranded in locations where they are vulnerable to insufficient water, food, health and education, and at risk of climate hazards that make these vulnerabilities yet worse.

If you want to assess yourself the array of climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies, and if you perhaps want to ask yourself what are the largest scale, fastest-acting responses to this planet-wide set of problems, join the Johnson County United Nations Association online Sunday, Jan. 17, at 1:30 p.m. to hear Mitchell County’s Jackie Armstrong from the 99 Counties for Climate Action Project explain how to work with En-ROADS, a climate interactive model assessing economic, energy and policy systems that propose to address climate change. To get the zoom link, contact JCUNA at [email protected]

Barbara Eckstein is a resident of Iowa City.

This article first appeared on Iowa City Press-Citizen Opinion: Children bear the brunt of climate crisis

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