Each Child’s Right to Live on a Sustainable Earth

An urgent call for making the wellbeing of children a greater part of the climate debate

November 20th marked Universal Children’s Day. What made this occasion even more memorable were the 55th anniversary of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child and the 25th anniversary of the adoption of theConvention on the Rights of the Child. These frameworks have contributed enormously to the protection of many children both in developed and developing societies. The Millennium Development Goal No. 2 which aimed at ensuring that each child had access to primary education has been met by ninety percent. The percentage of children that die under the age of 5(the so-called child mortality rate) has been reduced drastically by over forty-five percent. Accordingly, there was due cause to celebrate Universal Children’s day around the globe.

However, the situation of many children today leaves little to celebrate about. For instance, we are yet to achieve for every single child a stable home, access to basic amenities like food and shelter, clean and violent-free environments to live in, and quality basic education. Millions of children bear direct witness to armed conflicts across the globe as is the case in for example Syria, the Central African Republic and Somalia. According to a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, not only do children suffer from direct consequences of war and armed violence (recruitment in armed forces or groups, physical injuries, death), they are also indirectly affected by displacement and psychological trauma.

The toll experienced by children in modern conflict was starkly demonstrated during the violence in Gaza this summer, where around 500 Palestinian children were killed. Some lost their lives while sheltering in (UN) schools, which were deliberately targeted in bombardments by the Israeli military and deliberately used as bases by Hamas fighters. The psychological effects of the conflict on children have been shown to be long-lasting. Moreover, according to the International Labour Organization, more than 160 million children world-wide are victims of child labor. Additionally, there are numerous irregular migrant children who face various forms of neglect and disregard for their human rights in the states in which they reside.

The above mentioned situations are direct sources of insecurity hindering the development of children and which require immediate and comprehensive solutions. A less recognized threat to the lives and health of children that should be prioritized is climate change. There are many ways in which this global phenomenon jeopardizes the development of young ones, despite the fact that they are the least responsible for this problem. According to UNICEF, more than 600 million children live in the ten countries which are most vulnerable to climate change. Furthermore, a study by the World Health Organization (WHO) reveals that 88% of the existing global burden of disease due to climate change occurs in children under the age of five. Consequently, millions of children are at risk as a result of water scarcity, malnutrition, disasters, infectious diseases and infrastructure destruction. In addition to the physical risk children face due to climate change, the phenomenon also affects the education of children and their social development as a result of, for instance, climate induced migration and climate-related extreme poverty. Looking at this as an inter-generation issue, it is disconcerting to think of the type of the Earththat the children of today will be left to live in should the existing carbon budget as compared to pre-industrial levels be exceeded and should the temperature of the Earth rise with more than two percent.

From December 1-12, parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will meet in Lima, Peru, to negotiate a new agreement for reducing the emission of green-house-gases (GHG). As was evident in the recent China-United States climate deal, one major driving force in the climate negotiations will be the economy; with many countries – both developed and developing ones- unwilling to cut down on GHG emissions because of the potential impact this has on the national industrial growth. Consequently, climate negotiations are characterized by non-effective commitments based on criticism towards and accusations of countries which are regarded to have actively contributed to the increase in GHG emissions from the start of industrialization. Countries are quick to rely on their national sovereignty and their own definition of climate justice when addressing climate change. While relying heavily on the past, in these debates there is little to no explicit reference to the legacy the current generation is leaving for future generations represented by the children of today. In addition to considering the culpableness of the countries whose actions and policies have brought the world to this point, what matters at least as much are the concrete steps that can be taken to reduce the number of ‘child victims’ of climate change today and to ensure that there is a sustainable Earth for the young ones to dwell on for the next half century and beyond.

Children, without a doubt, are the most important human resource of the world. Therefore, in our quest to combat global challenges like terrorism, armed conflict, human rights violations, extreme poverty and climate change, we should bear in mind the future generation at all times. As we strive to protect children today, it is eminent to do more to secure their world tomorrow.

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