“I want to see my land smiling.
I want to see it’s revived beauty
I want to see the areas affected from deforestation filled with trees.
I want everyone to inhale fresh air.
I want fresh water for everyone
I want the earth to be protected from all risks.
I want to save all our resources
I want the earth to be a safe place where there is no one being affected by any form of climate change.”
This is Manahil’s dream. She is from Pakistan, a country devastated by floods resulting from record-breaking rain. While Pakistan contributes less than 1% of the global greenhouse gases, it is the 8th most vulnerable country to climate change. At a global level, it is reported that one in five children worldwide currently do not have access or enough water to meet their everyday needs. By 2041, one in four children are likely to live in areas of extreme high-water stress. According to several reports, other challenges will be accelerated and intensified as the planet warms up. Higher rates of malnutrition, exploitation, and health problems will threaten the wellbeing of children and the fulfillment of their basic rights. Children are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of climate change even though they do not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. The climate crisis is a child rights crisis.
With the aim to address these issues, an event “The Voices of Children for COP27 and beyond”, was held on September 15th, on the margins of the Human Rights Council 51st session. It was organized the Child Rights Connect Working Group on child rights and environment composed of several child rights and environmental organizations as well as the Permanent Mission of Egypt to the UN in Geneva (Egypt is holding the COP27 Presidency). This is the first in a series of ongoing efforts to improve space for children in climate decision-making at all levels and to bring voices of children at COP27.
The panel was composed of three children advocates. Carlos from Brazil, emphasized the urgent need to promote environmental education to the maximum extent possible so that people become aware of practical measures such as saving water, disposing of waste and using public transport. He does his part as, with the help of World Vision, he communicates with children around the world to discuss issues like climate change and the environment. He also mentioned his deep concerns with the deforestation of the Amazon. Karmah from Egypt pointed out that climate change is exacerbating the already existing inequalities. People and children from marginalized communities do not have enough knowledge and cannot adapt to climate change as well as other better off children. Egyptian children, especially in rural towns, she mentioned, face land degradation, floods, droughts, deforestation, species loss and disease. This poses a threat to health, safety and the right to live free of constant fear. Manahil called her government to shift energy systems from fossil fuels to renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydro energy to develop sustainable transport, to ban plastic, to plant trees and promote more recycling.
Children at the table:
All panelists stressed the imperative of securing meaningful and safe participation of children in climate discussions. Karmah and Mr Gudbrandsson called on the government of Egypt to respect the right to information and participation, especially for children, as this is one concern for the upcoming COP. Furthermore, Mr Gudbrandsson stressed that “civil society, environmental activists, including child human rights defenders, must be provided safe space to exercise their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, embodied in the Convention of the Rights of the Child.” Mr Sean McCabe, Climate Justice Policy Specialist at Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative (CERI) also emphasized the importance to include children in the climate discussions for the decisions to be more effective and meaningful, particularly to children.
So what’s next?
Mr Bragi Gudbrandsson, Member of the CRC Committee provided information about the development of the General Comment on child rights and the environment, a document being drafted by the Committee to guide all countries in the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UNFCCC as well as other international environmental obligations in a way that is mutually supportive. The General Comment will be finalized in 2023 and will be a critical tool for governments and other stakeholders to advance in these matters.
Ms Omnia El-Omrani, Official Youth Envoy for COP27, closed the panel discussion committing to pass on the children’s messages to the COP Presidency. She also underlined that, for this coming COP, a Youth and Future Generation Day was being organized by YOUNGO, UNICEF, Save the Children and Child Rights Connect, which would consist of a panel of children and adolescents. She mentioned that there would be various opportunities for children to participate in this meeting and that she hopes this would set a precedence for subsequent COPs.
More than 100 participants composed of government representatives, civil society practitioners, child rights experts, and children and adolescents joined the event. As a first step in a series of efforts, it is essential to sustain advocacy efforts for States to carry the messages from children and promote a strong focus on child rights and child participation in all climate-related decision-making processes.
Climate change represents an existential threat to the future of all children. As Ms Constanza Martinez, the moderator of the event put it: “the way we imagined our future when were children is very different from the way children imagine their future today (…)”. Children are the ones who really have skin the game. Granting children a meaningful and safe participation in climate discussion is fair, is their right. Child Rights Connect Working Group on child rights and environment will continue to work on this area for and with children.