Recognise children needs in climate change response


Green Climate Ambassador Alice Wanjiru (in maroon blazer) with other children prepares seedlings ready to plant during World Children's Day celebration at Afro-Sayari, Nairobi on November 22, 2023. [Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

When a researcher spoke of children’s higher vulnerability to climate change effects during a recent Kenya Editors Guild training on climate reporting in Nairobi, many participants were shocked.

The explanation was however simple; they suffer more in climate disasters because their immunity is low, they are small-bodied, and their organs are yet to fully develop.

UNICEF statistics show more than 1 billion children “are at an acute risk of climate disasters,” with another 4.2 billion expected to be born in the next 30 years.

Besides, children’s issues are more likely to be lumped with those of women, and not given adequate attention, funding or advocacy. Women are wont to leave their underage children to take care of their younger siblings, while they go to search for food, water or firewood. Often times they are denied joys of being children, and forced into adulthood prematurely.

UNICEF reports identify malnutrition “due to crop failure and rising food prices”, disruption of education of at least 40 million children globally yearly, and increased mental health problems linked to high temperatures as some of the ways children have suffered courtesy of climate change.

The story of a child rowing a boat in the dark when it flooded in Budalang’i, and getting her mother, who was in labour, to a health facility in time was considered heroic because that should not have been her work. But she had to think. Climate is changing children into adults whose conscience cannot allow them to stay in school knowing they lack water, food or wood fuel back home.

Yet they miss out in the climate fund allocations, “with only about 2.4 per cent of climate finance from key multilateral climate funds” supporting child-benefiting projects, according to UNICEF.

Children should be enabled to understand and voice their experiences with regard to climate change. It is impossible to ignore this demographic getting more exposed to water-borne diseases, air pollution, water stress, and sexual abuse, among others, especially when displacement happens.

Global efforts to curb emissions are inadequate, and may not result in desired responses. Children from poor backgrounds continue to be more vulnerable in disaster situations, and this has continued to widen the gap between the haves and have-nots.

The solution does not lie only in changing the habits, but in acting globally and locally to increase climate adaptation, and prevent calamities through ending deforestation and avoiding new fossil fuel projects or expansion of old ones.

This necessitates collaboration by stakeholders such as funders, educators and policy makers to integrate and increase climate change education in school curricula at all levels. Children must understand better the science of climate change, its impacts on different sectors and aspects of our lives, and the potential solutions within their reach, as they are great advocates when they believe in something.

Encourage them to participate in environmental projects, including tree planting and cleanups and teach them coping skills and how to tackle mental and other health effects climate change causes them. While it should be the norm, a few children already engaged in such efforts are treated as heroes and heroines. We need many more!

As stated at the training sponsored by the GIZ in collaboration with other partners, cultural and indigenous knowledge systems are key for sustainable living practices and adaptation strategies. Children, just as the journalists, must be exposed to these issues in time to equip them for the climate crisis. All these must be backed by policy that protect children’s rights with regard to climate change. They must be introduced early to development opportunities, education and skills to champion climate action.

The writer advocates climate justice. [email protected]