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CEnv Blog | Making Children and Climate Change Everyone’s Business

CEnv blog by Meghna Das CEnv

Meghna is the Head of International Programmes Engagement at UNICEF UK and is registered as a Chartered Environmentalist (CEnv) via her membership of IEMA.

2021: A Landmark Year

This is an important decade for climate action. We have less than 10 years to make the transformation necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change and unless we act now, climate change is set to reverse and undo the development gains achieved in the last few years.

2021, as we know, is an important year of action with the UN’s largest conference on climate change (COP26) taking place in Glasgow, where key decisions will have to be made if progress on climate action is to be achieved globally. Encouragingly, there is growing public support for climate action.

This is also a year where despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, businesses and the private sector are ramping up their climate commitments, engaging with a plethora of tools, processes, and initiatives to help them achieve this, such as ESG, Net Zero, circular economy, responsible investing, and sustainability indices.


Children and Climate Change

Image credit: © UNICEF/UNI309803// Frank Dejongh

What does sustainability mean, and how does it link to children – the future generations?

Sustainability has different definitions but three that really stand out are: a) one where the three pillars of Environment, Economic and Social intersect ; b) with the SDGs coming in 2015, the same thing was mirrored as People, Planet, Prosperity with Peace and Partnerships added to it ; c) and the third definition that really has been adopted as the universal definition is the Brundtland definition (Our Common Future, 1987): “Sustainability or Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

The phrase “Future generations” puts the emphasis on children, now and in the future, and this definition reflects just how central children are to sustainable development.

Children are the most vulnerable in every crisis, and climate change is no exception. Climate change represents an on-going emergency and crisis for children, presenting the world with an urgent global challenge. Children are the least responsible for climate change yet bear the greatest burden of its impact.

The Climate Crisis Is a Child Rights Crisis: Introducing the Children’s Climate Risk Index, the first comprehensive analysis of climate risk from a child’s perspective, which was recently launched by UNICEF in collaboration with Fridays for Future, finds that approximately 1 billion children – nearly half the world’s 2.2 billion children – are at ‘extremely high risk’ of the impacts of the climate crisis and live in one of the 33 countries classified as extremely high-risk. These children face a deadly combination of exposure to multiple climate and environmental shocks, as well as a high vulnerability due to inadequate essential services, such as water and sanitation, healthcare, and education. The findings reflect the number of children impacted today – with figures likely to get worse as the impacts of climate change accelerate.

However, children are not only victims of climate change but also powerful agents of change. In addition to bearing the brunt of climate change impacts, millions of children around the world are rightfully demanding a sustainable planet Yet, there is low awareness of the links – both positive and negative – between the private sector, children and climate change, and little guidance exists for businesses on how they can align with a child-sensitive approach to climate action and how they can effectively contribute to the solutions. The impacts on children and young people are still broadly missing in business’ discussions, narratives, and proposed solutions to tackle the climate crisis. Without private sector engagement, investment and due consideration of children and young people in climate adaptation, mitigation, and community resilience related actions as well as in policies/processes and initiatives, the global climate ambitions and the SDGs targets will not be achieved.


Partnering for a Purpose: Solutions and the Role of the Private Sector

Image Credit: © UNICEF/UNI226054/Naftalin

Climate change related problems are often interconnected and manifest themselves in various ways in a child’s lifecycle (e.g., climate induced droughts have an impact on a child’s access and right to water, which then impacts on the health of a child, in turn having implications on their education and ultimately their life chances). Accordingly, climate change is not just an Environmental problem but is linked to Social and Economic outcomes especially for children & young people. This needs a holistic and systems strengthening approach across the lifecycle of a child. This poses significant challenges but also opportunities for engaging with the private sector to find solutions, develop partnerships and provide vital funds for climate action for children, young people, and their communities.

A few examples of how the private sector and other relevant actors can play their part in climate action for the benefit of children, young people & their communities include:

  • Reducing impact on children by increasing investment in climate adaptation and resilience in key services for children. Globally, only $22 billion of the $410 billion spent on climate finance every year goes to adaptation while the majority goes to mitigation. To increase preparedness and adapt to the changing climate, there is an urgent need for climate financing for child responsive climate adaptation measures – supporting immediate climate induced emergency and recovery response; but also investing in long-term sustainable development solutions building climate resilience and disaster risk reduction measures. For example, delivering sustainable services through provision of climate resilient water and sanitation services, developing climate smart schools and climate resilient health facilities to protect children and their families.
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, shaping sustainable markets, working towards providing sustainable energy sources. Comprehensive and urgent action is required to take steps towards low carbon development including provision of clean, green, sustainable energy. There are millions of children who don’t have access to electricity in the first place and lack reliable energy. This is a large challenge as reliable energy is a key enabler of health and educational service delivery, required to power equipment, for health facilities, to light schools, as well as to enable connectivity and deliver effective water and sanitation services. There is a need for the private sector to go beyond Net Zero ambitions and their own Scope 1,2,3 emissions to help tackle wider greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, and at the same time meet education and health outcomes for children and communities especially impacted by their operations.
  • Putting children and young people at the heart of change. This involves – raising awareness about the impact of climate change on children and their futures, advocating for child-inclusive programmes & policies, providing children and young people with climate education and helping build green skills so they can enter into green jobs; including children and young people in all national, regional and international climate negotiations and decisions, including at COP26; including children’s rights indicators and child sensitive measures in ESG and responsible investment considerations; engaging on Children’s Rights and Business Principles, especially on Principle 7 with links to the environment, as well as considering children in business’ impacts assessment and due diligence processes.
  • Innovating solutions and supporting children and their communities in a holistic, systems- based approach to respond to emergencies. Become environmentally sustainable and climate resilient through creation of Eco-Zones, Eco-villages, and Green Municipalities to meet the needs of the whole child across their lifecycle. Supporting innovative solutions such as UNICEF’s initiative of turning plastic waste into materials for building classrooms by engaging women entrepreneurs – thereby creating a win-win approach for the environment, education, innovation, and entrepreneurship. There are similar innovative solutions for air pollution etc.
  • Ensuring the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is green, low-carbon and inclusive. There is currently an unprecedented opportunity to implement the solutions that respond effectively to COVID-19 but that also strengthen the systems to better respond to other crises such as climate change so that the capacity of future generations to address and respond to the climate crisis is not compromised.

UNICEF has been engaging with the private sector and developing private sector partnerships, which deliver socio-economic and environmental benefits for children as well as the environment.

Formula E is supporting UNICEF’s Safe and Healthy Environment Fund, which aims to help create a sustainable, safe and clean environment for children and young people globally through initiatives such as youth engagement, providing schools with sustainable energy solutions and reducing child exposure to air pollution. Likewise, Extreme E has been supporting UNICEF’s work on climate change education, helping children across Greenland to understand and address the climate related issues which are putting them and future generations at risk. The Eleva Foundation is supporting UNICEF’s work of developing the first climate smart Eco-Villages in Madagascar – villages that will have their schools, health facilities and water supply powered by renewable energy, as well as sustainable sanitation systems and internet connections for schools and health centres. Children will also receive a tailored climate education, so they’re equipped to deal with climate resilience when they grow up. Government partners like Jersey Overseas Aid are also helping UNICEF’s work on creating Eco-Zones in Nepal providing improved cookstoves to communities to help reduce indoor air pollution while helping communities pursue livelihood opportunities which have less negative impact on the environment.


Eyes on Glasgow

Despite all these efforts, policy change is still required if we are to achieve the transformations necessary for a sustainable future.

The COP26 event, where world leaders, businesses and NGOs will gather together to agree on the actions needed to tackle climate change, is a major opportunity to place the often-neglected children’s rights at the heart of the climate action discussions and negotiations. There is also an urgent need to scale up investment in child-sensitive & youth responsive climate adaptation and mitigation measures to deliver powerful ‘win-win’ solutions for the private sector and other stakeholders, as well as future generations- children & young people – working together to achieve a sustainable future.


How You Can Help

To find out more about this important issue, check out the UNICEF website.

If you’d like to discuss what your organisation can do to help reduce the impacts of climate change on children/ potential partnership opportunities with UNICEF, please get in contact with Meghna:

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