Under current population growth projections, by 2100 more than 15 billion people could inhabit the Earth. By that time, with no action from governments to limit carbon emissions, the global temperature could have risen by 4.5°C.
Imagine a world with twice as many people living on it; twice as much food required despite massive decreases in biodiversity, twice as many homes needed, twice as much land used for food and shelter, twice as much waste with nowhere to put it; increases in transport – cars, planes, trains; increases in electricity needed to charge our many devices, to run lighting in our homes and cities, to keep everyone warm or more likely - cool.
In this world, it will be children from the world’s poorest communities who will bear the brunt of these impacts and consequences. And they will have the fewest resources with which to cope.
Climate change is real – young people know it
Climate change is a genuine, existential threat. No more can we sit idly watching and do nothing to take action. Fifteen-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden says it perfectly:
Why should any young person be made to study for a future when no one is doing enough to save that future?
“Why should any young person be made to study for a future when no one is doing enough to save that future? What is the point of learning facts, when the most important facts given by the finest scientists are ignored by our politicians?”
Why are our children taking this more seriously than politicians and business leaders? Thousands of young activists are raising their voices on climate change issues. This is their only means of creating change. They are too young to vote, too young to own businesses, too young to be politicians; but they are certainly not too young to have ideas.
Climate change activists are speaking out
Climate-related disasters often have disproportionate impacts on children and serious implications for their rights. Climate change is already affecting children through increases in malnutrition, disease, poverty, school drop-out, child protection issues, and climate-induced hazards. Moreover, increased competition for natural resources in turn increases risk of conflict which again has the biggest impact on children.
And vulnerability is not equal. Girls are more likely to be removed first from school to support at home; more likely to get sick as a result of malnutrition; more likely to be a victim of early, forced or child marriage or violence and abuse. Nonetheless they are the least likely to be consulted, considered or included in decision-making and policy processes.
COP24 is our chance to make a difference
This year’s climate change conference provides an opportunity for all parties to urgently ramp up their commitments to keeping global temperature rises under 1.5°C. Yet there are very few child rights events at COP24 and even fewer children attending.
If children are the most vulnerable, most affected and have to live with climate change the longest they should be involved in decisions and have a platform to speak out. They are so creative and have so many ideas, they just need to be listened to.
What if COP24 parties fail to commit to reducing emissions?
If we fail to convince COP24 parties to reduce emissions, our children and future generations, the ones who have not contributed to climate change in any way, will be forced to live in a world we would no longer recognise. One where they don’t have the same rights we did to health, water, food and nutrition, education or protection.
If we don’t make the transformations needed right now to a green economy then the world we leave for our children will look very different from the one we have been lucky enough to inhabit. We don’t get to choose which country we live in, how much money we are born into, which century we live in. But we can all choose to leave a better world for our children.
We talk about climate change causing increasing disasters, sea level rise, heatwaves and droughts but we are the ones causing this. By using the term ‘climate change’ we remove ourselves from the equation. But humans are causing these disasters.
Let’s not leave the mess for our children to clean up
“When kids make a mess, adults tell us to clear it up. That’s fair. But when leaders of our country make a mess, like they’re doing right now about the environment they leave it for us to clean up.”
The quote above, from an 11-year-old girl, in front of a mass protest of students in Australia, is an example we all should be following.
For COP24 let’s all raise our voices. Let’s amplify the voices of inspiring girls and young women around the world so we can confidently say we did all we could to provide an environment in which our species can be sustained. That we didn’t stand by, knowing that our world is warming and did nothing to stop it.
We must demand our politicians drive change from the top. As individuals we must make environmentally friendly choices. And we must educate our children to be future leaders on climate change.