THE CLIMATE CRISIS, A TREMENDOUS INJUSTICE TO CHILDREN
By Yvonne Arunga, Country Director Save the Children Kenya and Madagascar
The climate crisis is fundamentally and irreparably reshaping our world with grave implications for the rights of current and future generations of children. The crisis is a child rights issue that affects children first and worst. Sub-Saharan African children will bear the greatest burden; a great injustice given that sub-Saharan Africa contributes less than 5% of greenhouse gas emissions.
Agriculture is the backbone of the economy in sub-Saharan Africa and our dependence on rain-fed agriculture leaves us particularly vulnerable to climatic shocks. Changes in weather patterns will increase the frequency and severity of droughts, floods, cyclones and insect outbreaks. This will in turn lead to lead to food insecurity, water scarcity, population displacement and potentially conflict over the diminishing resources.
A child born in Kenya in 2020 will experience 7 time more the effects of drought that their grandparents. The climate crisis as it unfolds will affect every aspect of a child’s life. Children need adequate and quality nutrition for optimal health. The increase in droughts and flooding which increases the risk of diarrheal and other waterborne diseases will potentially worsen child malnutrition. Malnutrition causes stunting and when children are stunted they are not only more susceptible to poor health but also suffer long-term negative effects on their physical and mental development. Extreme weather events such as flooding, cyclones and droughts often disrupt children’s education and when these disruptions occur the likelihood that a child will not resume schooling post event increases. Children also often drop out of school when they are co-opted to participate in income generation for families that have to cope with climatic shocks. Even worse when they are married off for the same reason.
Kenya has a well-defined multi-year strategic social and economic development plan that has mainstreamed the sustainable development goals in national and sub-national development frameworks. The climate crisis complicates the achievement of the goals under these plans. It is imperative that these national and sub-national plans address how we will mitigate and adapt to the effects of the climate crisis. Extra investment has to be made in child-sensitive sectors to ensure that access to essential services is prioritised so as not to further disadvantage children going into the future.
Collective societal action is urgently needed to address the climate crisis. When one finds themselves in a hole the very first thing is to stop digging deeper. The world needs to take urgent action to limit global temperature rise to a maximum of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. We need increased commitment by the global community towards funding mitigation and adaptation activities in communities that will be most affected. We should recognise children as equal stakeholders and key agents of change in addressing the climate and environmental crisis, including by establishing child-friendly mechanisms and platforms to facilitate children’s formal engagement in climate policy making. Lastly, we should scale up social protection systems to address the increasing impacts of climate shocks on children and their families, with the ambition to move to universal child benefits over time as a way to improve child well-being and build resilience.
As governments prepare to meet, assess progress, and accelerate their commitments to the next five-year cycle of the Paris Agreement, they must recall not only their obligations to act in the best interests of children, but the agency and capacities of children themselves. The world’s children – particularly those in low- and middle-income countries and those experiencing inequality and discrimination wherever they live – have contributed the least to the climate emergency but have the most to lose if this crisis continues unabated. It is imperative that children are present at this critical juncture – not as inspiration, but as rights-holders, as the most acutely affected, and as agents of urgent, necessary, and transformative change.
Cover Photo: Takai, a mother of seven in a village in Wajir County, sits with three of her children. The mother is struggling to feed her children due to drought. Photo: Delfhin Mugo, Save the Children
This article was first published on Daily Nation on 31st October 2021.