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The climate crisis is a child rights crisis. Young children today will bear the biggest brunt of climate change despite having contributed the least to it. In the decades to come, it will have the greatest impact on the rights of children and young people to healthcare, clean air and water, education and more. In fact, a recent study by Save the Children found that children today will face many more extreme weather events than their grandparents' generation: seven times more heatwaves, three times more river floods and crop failures and twice as many wildfires.
A recent Aspen Institute article stated that the developing child is particularly vulnerable to the impact of environmental degradation and climate change: “Every aspect of nurturing care is impacted by these issues: health, nutrition, access to early learning, safety and security, and even parents’ ability to be responsive when they are worried about disasters or when their livelihood is affected. Pregnancy and maternal and child health are put at serious risk”.
To ensure climate justice, we need to acknowledge that young children are particularly vulnerable to the climate crisis and that they need to be prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. Young people today are already advocating for politicians to take climate action and their voices need to be heard. In fact, at COP27 this year young activists had their own youth pavilion for the first time, where they held discussions with the UN Secretary General as well as other world leaders. However, while politicians have been making a fuss of youth activists, what have they actually done to translate this into action?
As stated in the latest Asia-Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (ARNEC) study: “Young children need to be seen as valuable participants in our environmental and climate response, and their education and knowledge needs to be cultivated and supported so that they build a strong sense of individual and collective agency to meet future challenges”.
Climate education plays a key role in preparing and empowering young children to deal with climate change and ensuring climate justice. Making climate education a part of national curricula is something youth activists have been demanding for years. Despite this, very few countries have formally committed to including climate change in the national curriculum for all age groups. Recent evidence shows that climate education has the potential to lead to a reduction in future carbon emissions, making it a powerful tool for climate action.
More on the Forum Network: ECOding: Putting climate solutions at the heart of tech education and beyond by Selçuk Yusuf Arslan, Teacher Trainer, Atatürk Mesleki ve Teknik Anadolu Lisesi
Young people today need a sense of hope for the future and must have the confidence to champion for it.
In addition, it is important to recognise that while climate education is a critical tool for climate action it needs to be taught in a positive, solutions-focused way to have the desired impact. Research has shown that just teaching students the science behind climate change has no impact on climate action. But if it is taught in a positive, empowering way then that is the catalyst that leads to future action. Children need to be armed not just with the facts of climate change but also be empowered with the solutions to tackle climate challenges. This very same positive approach is key to tackling children’s eco-anxiety as well. A 2021, 10-country survey found that 75% of young people think the future is frightening and 60% are extremely worried about climate change. Climate change as a topic of conversation needs to be normalised for young children as opposed to being a source of stress; climate education can play a key role in making this happen.
Young people today need a sense of hope for the future and must have the confidence to champion for it. Exchanging lessons and collaboration between young people all over the world through climate education projects will promote development of solutions to the crisis and build a sense of community. This is the approach we have been championing at Earth Warriors, which has seen young children become really motivated to take action to protect their planet.