#13 post-2015
Charlotte Seager

Seen but Not Heard

Despite repeated warnings from Unicef, children are not being involved in policymaking on climate change. How can they be included?

Children in developing countries are the worst affected by climate change, according to a recent Unicef report. This is not news. In 2013, a Unicef report found children in developing nations will bear the brunt of climate change, and in 2012 research by Oxfam likewise lamented the rise of malnourished children due to climate change. Why, after years of these findings, have governments and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) failed to include children in climate change debates? And how can policymakers include children's voices while tackling climate change?

“In developing countries children may have deep experience of an issue, such as water and sewage, but won't be involved in the decision making process”

"Schools and education can have a massive effect," says Roger Hart, lead author of the Unicef report and part of the children's environment research group. "In developing countries children may have deep experience of an issue, such as water and sewage, but won't be involved in the decision making process. Engagement should begin through community projects at a grassroots and local government level."

One example is the Rockaway youth taskforce, located in Queens, New York, who, in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy, were the most visible aid group in the community, and gained international recognition for organising food supplies, and delivering them door-to-door to disabled and senior residents. Another young campaigner, Brianna Fruean from Samoa, was just 14 when she began organising community events and attended UN environment programme (Unep) conferences to promote sustainable transport and healthy living in response to climate change. "Children can do things adult politicians can't," says Dale Rutstein, chief of communication and advocacy at Unicef. "Young people need to be the ones making choices, as they are going to inherit this problem." Rutstein also argues there is a role for NGOs, civil society, governments and community groups to involve children in meaningful, high level negotiations.

"We need to build environmental awareness, including youth knowledge about environmental processes and access to valued local environments”

There are, of course, obstacles to this approach: "The problem is that when governments involve children, the ultimate decision is given to politicians or bureaucrats representing the government," says Scott Fisher, a researcher from the graduate centre of the City University of New York. "We need to flip the traditional relationship of child citizens and create a view of government and citizens supporting each other, rather than citizens serving the government. This new relationship is necessary for addressing the challenges of climate change."

The development community should also aim to educate children as early as possible about the effects of climate change. "We need to build environmental awareness, including youth knowledge about environmental processes and access to valued local environments," says Bronwyn Hayward, an author on the report and senior lecturer at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. "It is incredibly hard for children to protect something they don't have a natural, everyday affinity for. Children need access to quality natural environments for informal play and in everyday family life."

“The key obstacle is a lack of understanding of the important role that children can play"

So, why isn't this already happening? "The key obstacle is a lack of understanding of the important role that children can play," says Catherine Cameron, director at Agulhas Applied Knowledge, a research and knowledge hub specialising in the nexus between climate, fragility and governance. "Policymakers need to prioritise this – do it first, then you build the action around the children, rather than trying to retrofit an adult based approach."

Governments, NGOs and academics must invite children into their climate change talks, listen to them and include them in the decision-making process.

While this is counter-cultural in many societies, projects outlined in the report show children can be successfully integrated in the planning and implementation of responses to climate change, even in remote areas. As the most affected by this issue, children should be involved and have been shown to mobilise a more efficient response.

Publications

Unicef Report: The Challenges of Climate Change: Children on the front line:

Unicef page

This article was first published in The Guardian Climate Change Hub:

The Guardian article

Photo: “Water Pollution with Trash Disposal of Waste at the Garbage Beach” by epSos .de
2011 - licenced under Creative Commons Attribution (2.0)

Related Articles

Voices: WorldWeWant & Friends

The post 2015 Agenda is designed as a participatory agenda. WorldWeWant & Friends is one initiative designed include the world’s youth.

» more

Disrupt Climate Change

The movie “Disruption” was part of the mobilization for the People’s Climate March in September 2014. It leaves no doubt: Climate change is a social issue.

» more