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‘A seat at the table with our voices heard’ – what children want COP28 to deliver


As world leaders prepare to debate the future of the planet at COP28, children and young people have already made clear their priority needs – better education and a say in policies affecting their lives.

That’s the resounding message from a series of ‘COP simulations involving youngsters from some 14 countries, and organised by the Save The Children charity and its partners.

Extra funding for climate-resilient infrastructure and a seat at the table with, and this is crucial, ‘their voices heard’, is what came through loud and clear.

Rwanda, Guatemala, Nigeria and Madagascar were among the countries represented at the simulations, ahead of the annual global that is this year taking place this year in Dubai, UAE, starting today (30 November) and running until 12 December.

Save The Children says that the world’s 2.4 billion children are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, describing it as ‘an emergency that is taking lives, eroding children’s rights and threatening their future’.

‘An emergency that is threatening our future’

So what did the young people say ahead of COP28?

  • In Rwanda, children said floods and mudslides had destroyed buildings and roads, preventing them from going to school or accessing health facilities. “When there is heavy rain, children don’t manage to go to school…it causes mudslides. Then our parents start struggling to get school fees and this results in school dropouts,” they said.
  • In Zambia, extreme weather events like drought, had also impacted their access to education. “When there is a drought, we children don’t go to school because we must search for water,” their joint letter read.
  • In Nigeria, children said money should go towards new facilities that have “flood-resistant materials, adequate drainage systems, and alternative energy sources”.

Across all of the simulations, children asked their governments to include climate education on national curriculum, so they are equipped with knowledge about climate change, its effects and how to address it. Many also want better infrastructure to make school buildings and communities safer.

A group in Madagascar said: “Because of the cyclones, the water level is rising so we can’t go to school. We’re asking for a bridge so that we can cross over and get to school.”

Investment in infrastructure, tailored to children’s needs is, says the charity, ‘vital to help communities adapt to the climate crisis’. But it adds that children’s rights are often overlooked when it comes to climate finance, citing a recent report which found that just 2.4 per cent of climate finance from four key global climate funds can be classified as sufficiently considering children, although some funders – like the Green Climate Fund – are actively working to bridge these gaps.

Many children highlighted the knock-on effects of climate change, explaining how it impacted their families’ crops, sources of income, food security and overall health.

Inger Ashing, Save The Children CEO, said: “The climate crisis is at its heart a child rights crisis. It’s taking lives, eroding children’s rights and threatening their future. Children’s calls for action pushed the climate emergency up the political agenda. Now, adults must step-up and support children to implement their ideas for a better future. Children want to be heard. We need to ensure a focus on children’s rights, based on children’s own views and recommendations, in climate negotiations, policies and financing at all levels.”

Save the Children is urging world leaders at COP28, particularly those from high-income countries and historical emitters, to increase climate finance, directing support to children and families for adaptation to the climate crisis and addressing losses and damages.

COP, or the Conference of the Parties, is the main decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It brings together the 198 Parties -197 nations plus the European Union – that have signed on to the Framework Convention.

The inaugural COP gathering took place in Berlin, Germany, in March 1995, and today the COP secretariat is headquartered in Bonn. COPs are hosted annually in different countries, under the auspices of the UNFCCC, with the UAE hosting COP28, being the 28th annual edition.

A report last year by Save The Children revealed that 83 per cent of children in 15 countries had seen climate change or inequality, or both, actually affecting the world around them. Almost three quarters (73 per cent) believed adults should be doing more to address these issues.

‘Our voice is important – listen to us’

The central message, seen again and again, is that children, ultimately, want their voices to be heard. Their calls for action have been steadily pushing the climate emergency up the political agenda, but many still think their voices have been neglected in climate discussions.

“Our voice is important, listen to us. We want to ask the authorities to seriously think about the value we have as children, and the future we deserve,” the group in Guatemala said.

Click here for the full COP28 schedule, where you can also search specifically for child and young people-related debates.

Author: Simon Weedy

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