By Tobias Lengnan Dapam
83% of children in 15 countries report witnessing climate change, inequality, or both, affecting the world around them, Save the Children survey released ahead of a series of critical meetings of world leaders said.
The report said majority of the children surveyed – 73% – also believe adults should be doing more to address these issues, including governments, businesses, and community leaders, many of whom will be attending meetings of the G20 and COP27.
The survey of over 42,000 children and young people across 15 countries, conducted by Save the Children between May and August this year, was part of a series of wider consultations involving more than 54,000 children across 41 countries. Throughout the consultations, children in all regions of the world shared their observations and experiences of changes in weather patterns and disasters, and articulated in detail the damage and harm this is causing in their lives and to others.
Krishna, 17, lives in a slum community on the outskirts of the city of Patna in the state of Bihar, India. At 13, he became the leader of a group of young activists in his neighbourhood who stand up for children’s rights. In August 2019, a devastating flood washed through his community, destroying people’s homes and belongings and cutting them off from essential supplies for two days. Krishna said:
“The day the floods came, we all got drenched. The water entered houses all of a sudden in the middle of the night while everyone was sleeping. For a week, our homes were filled with the flood water, school was also closed. We placed a stool above the water level and prepared food on that. We used to sleep also like that.”
“We live in slums and do not have a brick-and-mortar roof. We have put a tin on the top instead. It gets very hot under the sun, so we get hot air circulating inside. Even with the fan switched on, it starts circulating hot air, which is why it gets very hot. During winters, we feel very cold.”
Some children described how their experiences have sparked feelings of anger at inaction and fears for the future, speaking poignantly about impacts on their mental health. Many were adamant that change is not only needed, but is possible.
In Africa and the Middle East, children drew links between climate change and increased hunger, particularly its effects on agriculture. Children in countries that have been hit particularly hard by the current global hunger crisis are seeing and experiencing things children should never have to, including deaths during crises, suicide, child labour and child marriage. Children in all regions referred to rising food and living costs, with some connecting this to climate change.
Many children linked changing and extreme weather and increased incidence of disasters to health issues caused by heat exposure and a lack of access to water, including increased prevalence of cholera. Pollution, air quality and waste were also among the top concerns raised globally.
Oriana*, 15, fled violence in Venezuela with her family when she was a baby. Now she lives in a village on the outskirts of a Colombian city near the Venezuelan border. Oriana said:
“When I was six months old, it rained heavily, and the water accumulated on rubbish and attracted mosquitoes. At that time, dengue was quite common. Many children died from dengue and I caught it and was close to death. I got dengue haemorrhagic fever from a mosquito bite and the doctor told my mum to say goodbye to me because there was nothing else they could do.”
A number of children highlighted the links between poverty, inequality and the climate emergency – “tangled together like a bowl of spaghetti,” said one 14-year-old boy in the UK; a boy in India said “poverty is a brother to climate change”. Children noted that some are more at risk from climate impacts than others, with children from low-income households, girls, those with disabilities and children displaced from their homes most frequently cited as more at risk.
Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International, said:
“Children are bearing the brunt of the climate and inequality crisis, and their views, actions and demands pushing for change are among the boldest and most tenacious. Their right to participate in decisions affecting them is also enshrined in international child rights law. Many of the children we engaged with are frustrated that they are being ignored, and feel that governments, business and adults in their communities are not doing enough.
“All adults owe it to children to maintain hope. Leaders from the world’s richest countries have particular power to turn this hope into action, by reducing carbon emissions at home and unlocking the financing that is urgently needed to support countries that are suffering the most from the climate and inequality crisis but who have done the least to cause it.
“Inequality and the climate emergency are underlying drivers of the global food crisis that is leaving three billion people without access to nutritious food and 811 million people going to bed hungry every night. Unless they are tackled with urgency, we will see an increase in the frequency and scale of crises like this in the years ahead.”
The outcomes of the child consultations are captured in a ground-breaking new report on climate change and inequality, to be released by Save the Children on 26 October 2022. Generation Hope: 2.4 billion reasons to end the global climate and inequality crisis will look at both the intersection of poverty and climate risk, and how this impacts children across the world, and incorporates detailed feedback from children.
Save the Children is calling on leaders to listen to the calls that children are making, and step up their action to address the climate and inequality crisis and its disproportionate impact on children, in line with their obligations under international law.
The organisation is especially concerned that the countries hit hardest by the global climate and inequality crisis are facing mounting debt repayment costs due to global economic turmoil, which are preventing them from investing in protection and vital services for children, including protections from climate disasters and the global food crisis.
As G20 finance ministers from the world’s biggest economies meet on the fringes of the Annual Meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund next week, Save the Children is urging them to agree measures to fix the global debt relief system, as well as to ramp up ambition on and delivery of urgent humanitarian, development and climate finance.