Children See More of Climate Change

In today's world, we find ourselves in the midst of a global crisis convergence, where a multitude of threats intersect and challenge our collective resilience. From the pressing issues of climate change and economic inequality to the divisive specter of political polarization, these challenges seem insurmountable. However, history shows that societies have faced and sometimes overcome such threats before. Today, we have a unique advantage: knowledge. This knowledge is not just a rehash of past events but is obtained through new methods and data.

About 83 per cent of of children in 15 countries say they witnessed climate change or inequality, or both, affecting the world around them. The analysis comes from a major Save the Children survey released ahead of a series of critical meetings of world leaders.

In the survey, Save the Children says that a majority of the children surveyed – 73% – believed that 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 between May and August this year, was part of a series of wider consultations involving more than 54,000 children across 41 countries.

The survey quotes one Krishna, 17, who lives in a slum community on the outskirts of Patna in Bihar, India as saying “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 particularpower 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.”

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.


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