Planting trees in a school garden in Mozambique

Representing All Children at COP26

My work on climate change began 2005, while working for UNICEF in Water, Environment and Sanitation. As a ‘water’ person, my field work, talking to kids about changes in their communities, how their family crops no longer grow, how the water pumps don’t go deep enough, not being able to walk to school because the way is flooded, etc, led to research on climate change which came to be my first knowledge of the already occuring impact of climate change which I felt in my bones would be the biggest challenge to be faced by our world’s children in post-industrial world, which, of course today, many of us experience in our daily lives.

These findings at the time led to convincing senior management at UNICEF to get involved in climate change, as a first step, by preparing for and participating in COP-13 in Bali in 2007.  It was in Bali, when was inspired by some increidbly brilliant and motivated Indonesian school children who's wisdom opened the door and enabled us to connect children with one another through programs like 'The Power of One Child + One Tree' and the 'Global Action Classroom' and to support their local actions to build skills and knowledge toward a sustainable future for all.

It was in Bali that I learned that the UNFCCC, as an international convention, along with its sister Rio conventions did not have a constituency group for children or young people. Together with colleagues at the UNFCCC Secretariat, UNEP, UNESCO, our efforts for UNICEF and several Parties, led to the adoption of the YOUNGO children and youth constituency in 2009 with the other conventions following suit in subsequent years.

Much work came about over time, and I have El Espectador article on climate change and children personally worked in dozens of countries at the policy level to help to get climate change funding allocated to the education sector, or even children and families themselves, but with billions of dollars flowing all over the world to tackle climate change, the sustainable funding for this joint project has yet to be secured. Human beings under the age of 18 on this planet, represent 2.2 billion people! Almost one-third of the global population. Yet, precious few funds have been allocated to their participation and empowerment. Of course, many of us continue to advocate for sustainable funding to support the empowerment of children and young people, who, are now squarely the people who will need to have the skills and knowledge to live in a rapidly changing, increasingly perilous planet.

This year, for COP26 in Glasgow, matters could not be more urgent. We partnered with, Rotary Club International and others to organize a side event entitled: Climate Education and Youth Empowerment: The El Espectador article on climate change and children key to meeting our climate and environmental goals, at which World leaders and youth voices discussed urgent reasons and benefits for universal access to climate education and outline potential implementation strategies and innovative solutions (including values-based knowledge, skills and traditional practices) and funding option.

The event was well attended and globally webcast, yet after all these years, and having worked in more than 60 countries, it pains me to acknowledge that sustainable funding for climate change and environmental education for grade school (primary and secondary) is still not a budget line item in many if not most countries. And often it is still taught as climate science, versus skills and knowledge for adapting to a new way of life on Earth.

After the event, an article was published in El Espectador newspaper in Colombia, as front page news, shown here for those who read Spanish. My hope is that all of us as adults and especially those with decision making power and sustainable budgets will begin to see the 2.2 billion children under the age of 18 who are not only the future, but the best promise of today. My 7 year old grandaughter, Emma, is excelling at a Ninja Warrior class in Connecticut, that has her excelling in rock climbing, zip lining and trekking through the forest. I do believe that these kids are born to face this challenge and more of them need to be shared. Please do share your stories of sustainable actions with your students. We all need to learn and do more.