Integrate children rights in climate change responses

Pupils of Ngambo Primary School in Baringo County during a lesson under a tree on ‎October ‎17, ‎2022. [Harun Wathari, Standard]

Children in many lower-income countries are critically exposed to the impacts of climate change. The effects of longer and more intense droughts and floods are hampering children’s education and overall development – and creating pressures that result that put children more at risk of exploitation.

For example, harmful cultural practices including child marriage, female genital mutilation and child labour are exacerbated during crises caused by climate change. In some communities, parents force their daughters to undergo female genital mutilation, and thereafter marry them off to earn income to support the rest of the family, while boys are likely to drop out of school in search of food as parents struggle to provide for them.

Such crises also lead to increased household poverty, hunger, and conflict between communities in competition for scarce resources. Consequently, climate change is causing child rights to become even more difficult to safeguard as communities and governments do not fully appreciate the threats to their children’s future or are incapacitated to protect them.

COP27 in Egypt provides an opportunity for governments and other stakeholders to assess progress and put in place measures that will address the adverse effects of climate change on the environment.

Decades of concerns about climate change have culminated in international agreements and conventions. Goal 13 of the Sustainable Development Goals calls for urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. The Paris Agreement that succeeded the Kyoto Protocol aims at limiting global temperature rise to well below 2°C with an ambitious target of 1.5°C.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child requires governments to protect children from the most harmful consequences of environmental pollution. On its part, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children postulates that the education of the child shall be directed to the development of respect for the environment and natural resources.

Children constitute about one-third of the global population, hence forming the most populous group on the continent. Sadly, almost every child on earth is exposed to a major climate and environmental hazard. UNICEF says in 2020 alone, nearly 10 million children were displaced in the aftermath of weather-related shocks.

It further states that over 99 per cent of deaths that are attributable to climate-related change occur in developing countries, and children make up over 80 per cent of those deaths. Similarly, whereas developed nations are most culpable for actions leading to climate change, the developing lower-income countries are experiencing the greatest impact.

The world must unite and act to combat climate change and its impact on children and humanity at large. Egypt's COP27 presidency vision is to move from negotiations and planning to implementation. This will require countries to adhere to their individual commitments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Mr Ongwae is Senior Advocacy Manager, Africa, ChildFund International.