FROM wars to natural disasters and every other crisis in between, children have always been the most vulnerable. Climate change is no exception. The threat posed to youngsters of today and the future by the global warming crisis will worsen unless the world unites and takes emergency and long-term measures.

In the just-concluded COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, world leaders pledged to address the issues of carbon emission and other climate-related problems with more virulence than ever before. The world doesn’t have any other option, and children can play an important role in facing the challenge of climate change.

Future Tense

According to a recent study by Save the Children, if the planet continues to heat up at current levels, children born in 2020 will experience more heatwaves, floods, droughts and wildfires across their lifetimes than the previous generations. On average, these children will face three times as many climate disasters as their grandparents and almost seven times more heatwaves across their lifetimes compared to a person born in 1960.

Children's Day - Climate Change 1

As world temperatures rise, so will water scarcity and air pollution, putting children at risk of the deadliest impact of water-borne diseases and severe forms of respiratory illnesses. In fact, a UNICEF report, The Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI) released in the run-up to COP26, found that almost every child on the planet is exposed to at least one climate and environmental hazards, such as heatwaves, cyclones, air pollution, flooding and water scarcity. The Index also classifies approximately one billion children –  nearly half the world’s minors living in 33 countries – as “extremely high-risk”.

There are other consequences because of extreme weather events. The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) report says that women and children, displaced by natural disasters which now occur more frequently, face a heightened risk of modern slavery and human trafficking.

Children's Day - Climate Change 3

According to environmental activists, high-income and high carbon-emitting countries (India is third after China and the US), have greater responsibility for tackling climate change and reducing its impact on their vulnerable populations.

Children’s manifesto on climate change

Since some of the densest, child-populated areas in the world are in South Asia, which includes India, large numbers of children in this country are likely to suffer significantly from flooding, drought and heat waves.

Young people of the world may inherit a problem not of their own making, but they can take part in more significant numbers in environment-related causes and spread awareness about the looming crisis. UNICEF says that young people can play a greater role as pressure groups on climate change.

Here are a few things the youth can do:

  • Call upon their governments to include young people in the planning of future measures to tackle climate change
  • Forcefully demand comprehensive climate action from decision-makers and remind  governments about the promises they have not kept on climate change
  • Press for child rights and voices to be reflected and included in implementing international climate change agreements so that they can hold their governments accountable.
  • Lobby governments to provide climate education for children and young people to contribute to a climate policy and action meaningfully.

Child activists from India

Some of the Indian child activists who have got international recognition for raising awareness about climate change and environmental protection include Ridhima Pandey from Uttarakhand, Ayaan Shankta from Maharashtra and Vinisha Umashankar from Tamil Nadu.

Ridhima Pandey

In 2017, Ridhima (second from left in the picture above) was only 11 years old when she filed a petition with the National Green Tribunal, holding the Indian government responsible for not taking adequate action to tackle climate change. She took this action after witnessing the devastating 2013 floods in Kedarnath, which killed almost 6,000 people and had a huge impact on her. She even spoke at the United Nations, calling for decisive action to save the planet.

Mumbai-based Ayaan is 12 years old and has been named as ‘International Young Eco-Hero’ in recognition of his efforts to solve environmental problems facing Powai Lake in Mumbai. The lake used to be a source of drinking water but is now polluted by sewage and garbage.

Addressing COP26 in Glasgow, 15-year-old Vinisha blamed the leaders assembled at the UN summit for making “empty promises and failed to deliver.” But she also showed her resolve, declaring, “But I’ve no time for anger. I want to act.” Vinisha was one of the finalists for Prince William’s Earthshot Prize for her solar-powered ironing cart design to replace 10 million such carts in India that burn 5kg of coal every day.

Every child has a right to life, education, and protection. But climate change can infringe on all these rights. The time for action is now.

Click here to learn about a few NGOs fighting climate change in India and how you can do your bit by donating to them.

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