As world leaders in Glasgow at the COP26 meeting seek agreements this November on combatting climate change, we hear and read about those on the streets of Glasgow calling for more action, more quickly.
Young people have been especially vocal, particularly last Friday, when their generation was supposed to be 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 is the first to link climate change and the rights of children. It makes a strong case for combining the two concerns.
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. Those climate change hazards are ones we know: extreme heat, water scarcity, riverine flooding (Iowans know this one especially well), hurricanes, coastal flooding, but also increased presence of disease-spreading organisms, air pollution, as well as 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. On the other hand, children not struggling with most or all of these vulnerabilities have the means to develop a sustained coping capacity in response to the hazards, shocks and stresses of climate change.
My words can’t convey the findings of the report with the clarity and force provided by its charts and maps and narrative. These maps and narratives make it clear, for instance, which countries are the greatest greenhouse gas emitters and which have the most vulnerable children.
The report is also clear on what needs to be done — besides the necessary reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Among those solutions is, of course, to invest in all ways in alleviating the vulnerabilities of the most at-risk children, but also to listen to children and young people, and include their voices in the negotiations, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Barbara Eckstein resides in Iowa City.