MADRID (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - With children and young people increasingly at risk from extreme weather and out in the streets demanding faster action on global warming, efforts to respect and promote their rights in climate policy need to step up, U.N officials said on Monday.
On the sidelines of U.N. climate negotiations in Madrid, the U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF) and former Irish President Mary Robinson urged countries in the Paris Agreement on climate change to keep the rights of children and young people in mind as they put the accord into practice.
Theo Cullen-Mouze, a 17-year-old climate activist from Ireland, said his small island community off the west coast was suffering from wilder winter storms, longer summer droughts and more frequent extreme floods.
As a result, he felt like he had no option but to start a climate protest every Friday outside his local government office, with his younger sister.
“I came to Madrid because the adults are acting like children,” he said, lamenting their failure so far to curb planet-heating emissions and rising temperatures.
“Please listen to us, please listen to the science,” he pleaded.
At the Madrid conference, UNICEF launched a “Declaration on Children, Youth and Climate Action”, which it said reflected priorities identified by children and youth throughout the world.
Those included expanding investment in protecting children from disasters and helping them adapt to climate threats, beefing up education on environmental issues and enabling the participation of young people in climate change policy-making.
The declaration was signed on Monday by nine countries: Chile, Costa Rica, Fiji, Luxembourg, Monaco, Nigeria, Peru, Spain and Sweden.
Paloma Escudero, UNICEF’s global director of communications, noted that half a billion children live in areas at very high risk of floods due to extreme weather, as well as rising sea levels.
Last week, the agency released data showing storms forced about 760,000 children from their homes in the Caribbean from 2014-2018, compared with 175,000 in the preceding five years.
David R. Boyd, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, said that when the initial U.N. convention on climate change was signed in 1992, about four-fifths of the world’s energy supply came from fossil fuels, and that share had not dropped since.
“Children, I apologize to you from the bottom of my heart - we are failing you,” he said. “We need urgent, rapid and far-reaching changes in all aspects of society in order to address the climate crisis.”
Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she was pleased that more young people were able to speak out at the United Nations, in parliaments and elsewhere to demand climate action - even though the response so far had been inadequate.
“I understand the despair and rage so many younger people - and older ones too - are feeling,” she told an event to launch the declaration. “Your advocacy is helping to change that and is a real force of hope for all of us.”
‘DON’T FORGET US’
Penelope Lea, 15, an ambassador on climate and environment for UNICEF Norway, called climate change “a ticking clock”.
She has chaired a national children’s climate panel for several years, and said it had received “thousands of thoughts” from young people.
“We write a report every year and give it to the politicians - so they don’t forget us,” she said.
“We need new ways to think and act”, she added.
Ministers from countries that signed the declaration spoke of their efforts to consult with children and include some of their views in plans and legislation to tackle climate change. But they acknowledged more could be done.
Camila Gonzalez, a 16-year-old Mexican climate activist, said young people should be given a seat at the table when governments make decisions on responding to climate change.
“Yes, we are children... but do not think that we are stupid and do not know enough,” she said.
She and other young panelists said they wanted more tools and spaces to contribute to policy-making, as well as a greater push at national level to educate children on climate change and create more green jobs.
UNICEF’s Escudero noted that only 42% of countries’ Paris Agreement climate action plans - which they are due to update next year - mentioned children or youth.
Robinson, also a former U.N. human rights chief and grandmother of six, said countries should think harder about how to include children in those plans and find ways for young people to be listened to.
“Children have called out the adult world (on climate change)... because this is a gross injustice to young people,” she said. “It’s not fair that we have condemned children so far to have that worry and that fear.”
Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate
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