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Climate Change Casts a Long Shadow Over British Childhoods

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"We cannot continue sleep walking towards the edge of history's cliff" former US vice-president Al Gore told a packed hall at the Dublin conference on hunger, nutrition and climate justice on Tuesday. "Even with glaring evidence people still do not connect the dots of climate change. We have to win the conversation about climate change" he urged the delegates from 60 countries, including representatives of the UK Government.

The conference this week was important, not just because it included representatives from communities most vulnerable to the effects of climate change as well as policy makers, but also because it made the crucial link between climate change, food crises and nutrition.

Each year two million children die because they cannot get enough food to eat. A further 165 million children's lives are blighted by chronic under-nutrition. Lack of nutritious food during the vital early period of a child's growth leads to irreversible damage to their body and brain affecting their future performance at school and economic productivity as an adult. Under-nutrition also puts children at a higher risk of dying from infectious diseases.

And a key driver of the high levels of hunger and malnutrition is the impact of climate change on food systems in the poorest countries of the world. Rising temperatures and variations in rainfall combined with increasingly frequent and severe natural disasters are making it ever harder for families to get enough nutritious food. Indeed it is estimated that every year for the next decade, 175 million children will be affected by sudden climate-related disasters.

As always it is children - those least responsible for climate change - who are the hardest hit. Climate change is compromising life chances now. It is vital that we invest in enabling communities to cope with a changing environment.

But it is not just children in developing countries whose lives are being affected by climate change. A new Ipsos-MORI poll commissioned by UNICEF UK and published yesterday shows that fear of climate change is casting a long shadow over British childhoods. Nearly three-quarters of young people aged 11-16 expressed concern about how climate change will impact on their lives and said they would like the UK Government to do more to combat it.

Awareness of climate change was extremely high - with just 1% saying they knew nothing about climate change, and that awareness led young people to feel very worried about its impact on them and their world. 74% agreed that the world will have changed as a result of climate change by the time they are adults. But they were not just concerned about their own futures. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of these young people across Britain were worried about how climate change will affect other children and families in developing countries.

Whilst a representative sample of adults also polled, expressed less concern about climate change than the young people, well over half agreed that the effects of climate change will mean their children will not grow up in the same natural environment as they did and 61% felt that the UK Government should take more action to combat climate change.

This survey shows that there is a desire amongst Britons, young and old, for our Government to show strong leadership and take decisive action on climate change. Climate change is something that will ultimately affect us all. Failure to act now will mean that tomorrow's adults and future generations will pay the price.

By showing strong leadership and committing its fair share of new money to the Green Climate Fund to help children adapt to the effects of climate change, the UK Government can make sure children everywhere have enough nutritious food to eat, grow up to fulfil their potential and do not pay for our past mistakes with their futures. We can afford this investment through innovative methods like new taxes on dirty shipping. We cannot afford inaction.

We all need to take our responsibility to future generations very seriously. For me this responsibility was brought into sharp relief by a 14 year schoolgirl, Eshitha Vaz, one of UNICEF's children's champions. "When it comes to climate change, I'm not proud of the human race" she wrote this week. "Governments around the world should see tackling climate change as one of their top priorities...but it should not just be something for only scientists and world leaders to worry about. It is something that should concern us all and also one that all of us should be willing to tackle."

Visit UNICEF UK's online petition calling on Edward Davey to make good on the government's climate cash promise.

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