The Impact of Climate Change on the c coming generation, in the light of the IPCC Report
By Sanjana Ghosh
The much-anticipated report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released on 9th August 2021, is a warning bell for us. Scientists are observing unprecedented changes and some of them are already irreversible for centuries to millennia. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the report was nothing less than “a code red for humanity”. Under such circumstances, one must realise that it is children who are going to be the major victims. Considering the rate at which environmental damage continues, the upcoming generations will be left with a world extremely unsustainable to live in.
Key takeaways from the IPCC report:
The report, prepared by 234 scientists from 66 countries, highlights that human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that was unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years.
There are chances of crossing the global warming level of 1.5℃ in the next decades and unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach.
Extreme changes are being anticipated. This includes heavy precipitation, marine heatwaves, agricultural and ecological droughts in some regions, intense tropical cyclones as well as reductions in Arctic Sea ice, snow cover and permafrost.
Considering that the horrendous impacts of climate change are yet to fully manifest, it need not be reiterated that it is the children who have to bear the brunt of today’s mismanagement. To put it candidly, the present-day ignorant masses might not have to deal with this but unfortunately, the next generation will have to suffer.
Impact of climate change on children
According to John Nox, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and environment, air and water pollution and exposure to toxic substances, along with other types of environmental harm, cause 1.5 million deaths of children under the age of 5 every year and contribute to disease, disability and early mortality throughout their life. Additionally, climate change and the loss of biodiversity threaten to cause long-term effects that will blight children’s lives for years to come.
Moreover, the impact of climate change is disproportionate across communities, the indigenous sectors are already facing it. Let us take the example of the Wayuu community living in La Guajira, a state in north-eastern Columbia. For centuries, the Wayuu adapted to survive in arid La Guajira through sustainable practices and dependence on seasonal rains for agriculture. But over the past decade, those seasonal rains have become even less frequent and have reached historic lows since 2012. Prolonged droughts and rising temperatures in recent years have disrupted long-standing Wayuu planting practices, leaving the land with the largest amount of desertification in the country. These droughts have been attributed partly to repeated El Niño events, which have increased in frequency due to climate change.
Children and adults are adjusting to these drastic changes by reducing the food consumed or skipping meals altogether. Often days are passed without eating. Additionally, lack of access to basic services from the government has triggered a malnutrition crisis. In La Guajira, children die of malnutrition at a rate nearly six times the national average and the state leads the country in childhood mortality due to malnutrition. Meanwhile, many Wayuu children who do survive, suffer from chronic malnutrition, which compromises their health and development into adulthood. Without significant government action, the problem of malnutrition will only worsen as the climate crisis intensifies. By the end of the century, scientists project that average temperatures in La Guajira will be 4.14 degrees Fahrenheit higher, while rainfall will be 30 to 40 per cent lower.
If this was not horrifying enough, then the rising problem of climate refugees should be an eye-opener. In the American state of Louisiana, an island is sinking. Since 1955, Isle de Jean Charles has lost 98% of its landmass to rising sea levels, devastating hurricanes, and the construction of oil and gas canals along the marsh. Consequently, the long-time residents of this island had to relocate to higher grounds as their homeland became uninhabitable. Such is the integration of the impact of Climate Change on other seemingly disparate aspects of life, like food security as illustrated above, that it violates basic human rights as well. Considering that the Convention on the Rights of the Child is one of the most widely ratified human rights treaties in history, all states should start redressing the present scenario right away.
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)
The Convention on the Rights of the Child is an international treaty adopted by the United Nations on November 20, 1989, establishing global standards to ensure the protection, survival, and development of all children, without discrimination. Countries that ratify the treaty pledge to protect children from economic and sexual exploitation, violence, and other forms of abuse and to advance the rights of children to education, health care, and a decent standard of living. As of 2021, 196 countries are party to the treaty. This includes all United Nations members except the United States, which is a signatory but not a party to it. Due to rapid climate change, several rights covered by this treaty are being violated.
Article 24 states “Every child has the right to good quality health care and a clean environment-”.
Likewise, according to Article 27, “All children have the right to a decent standard of living, including food, housing, water-”. The story of the Wayuu community is proof enough that children are not able to exercise these rights.
Article 31 of the UNCRC mentions that “All children have the right to relax and play, and to join a wide range of activities-” Howard and Juliette’s sinking island surely does not let them enjoy these rights.
Due to the harsh living conditions due to climate change and lack of infrastructure, many children are unable to attain education, another crucial right as well (Article 28).
Many countries have implemented this convention to strengthen their legislation and altered their policies and the condition of children has improved compared to the past. Yet due to the current negligence towards climate action, children might be pushed towards abysmal conditions.
The Route Forward
According to the present UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and environment, David Boyd, the right to a healthy environment needs global recognition as a way to get more countries to accelerate actions to provide safer, cleaner and more sustainable environments for their citizens. According to him, the adoption of a resolution would provide a positive catalyst to accelerate efforts, just as the UN resolutions on the Rights to Water and Sanitation in 2010 had sparked progress in fulfilling those essential rights. Over one hundred national constitutions and several regional human rights agreements now recognise the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment but official recognition by the UN can create a greater difference.
Moreover, children’s participation in matters of their collective future is required now. This is in fact in consonance with the rights of UNCRC. Under Article 12, every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them and to have their views considered and taken seriously. Similarly, according to Article 13, every child must be free to express their thoughts and opinions and to access all kinds of information, as long as it is within the law. Hence, children’s views should be taken into account and their involvement must go beyond tokenism like making posters and slogans for climate change and shift to active participation where their suggestions are included in decision making.
This process has already started in many places. In 2020, World Economic Forum had invited 10 teenage changemakers at their annual meeting to foster intergenerational collaboration. In the same year in India, in November, Climate Parliament with Children was conducted in the presence of the Hon’ble Vice President Shri M Venkaiah Naidu, Minister, Women and Child Development, Smt. Smriti Irani and 30 Members of Parliament. 150 children representing children’s groups discussed the impact of climate change with the parliamentarians and presented an eight-point Charter of Demands on climate action. Approximately 7000 children were involved in the process supported by Civil Society Organization networks across the country. Now, children are even suing their governments for climate inaction, and at times winning the case as well. This trend has been observed from Colombia and the Netherlands to as far as Pakistan.
These steps taken by many children should become a global movement now, more should join the struggle against climate change and government inaction. Large-scale collective efforts will hopefully help secure a positive and sustainable global future.
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