In contrast to the scepticism of us cynical and over-worked adults, the awareness amongst children of both the tenderness of our planet and the fatal threats from climate change is undiminished. Visiting both primary and secondary schools, I am constantly struck by how aware and how fervently many children feel about what is happening to their world.
A new report from UNICEF UK bears out the reality of young people around the world who experience an Earth damaged by climate change, damage that their generation will have to suffer, pay for and attempt to rectify. The quotes of children from Madagascar to the Philippines, from India to the UK, demonstrate how powerfully and articulately they express their fears for the future.
Eshitha, 14 from the UK says: "Unless we take action, I fear that by the time I reach thirty, the problems we are faced with now will seem minute in comparison to those we will be facing." On the other side of the world, Andre, 16 from the Philippines says; "In our municipality, the youth don't just sit back and wait for what adults will say, instead we really do something for the environment and we participate actively in issues affecting young people and our community, especially in reducing damages inflicted by disasters." Without doubt young people around the world see the future clearly and rightly demand that action must be taken; not tomorrow, but now and by everyone.
Whilst our fathers and grandfathers lived through World Wars and wars of liberation, the effects, whilst devastating for humankind, surprisingly left the Earth's ecosystem without long-term damage.
We cannot plead ignorance ourselves as to what we are now doing to our ecosystem, with our grotesque abuse of our climate with fossil fuel usage and consequent unsustainable carbon emissions.
But what UNICEF UK's report tells us very clearly is that whilst we may have chosen to sit on our hands and do shockingly little to reduce our impact on climate, our children know very well and our grandchildren will come to know the devastating ramifications of our inertia.
A staggering three-quarters of young people in the UK aged 11-16 are concerned about how climate change will impact on their lives and have said they would like the UK government to do more to combat it. Cressida, 18 and from the UK expresses hope and ambition that is so lacking from my generation as she says; "We all know that climate change disproportionately affects the most vulnerable members of global society. We all know time is running out. We all know that climate change knows no boundaries. But whilst young people may be the most vulnerable to climate change, we have the innovation, creativity, dynamism and zeal for life that gives us the capacity to make change a reality."
The passion of young people might just be the panacea to our current apathy, but children are so rarely given a chance to voice their opinions in a meaningful way. Politicians may pose at a school photocall but rarely act on the demands of those too young to even vote. Too many adults conveniently deny that climate change is man-made but evidently, children find it harder to ignore the piercing warning bells, perhaps that's because they will still be around to clear up the mess.
UNICEF UK has published a brave and forthright account of the world young people are going to inherit. Babies born today will be parenting their own children by 2050, when temperature and sea level rises will be accelerating. This is no longer a murky forecast of an abstract and distant future, climate change is already a reality which will tamper with the lives of our very own children.
UNICEF UK sets out where pressure needs to be brought to bear on the UK government and others to play their full role. It's time to move from debate to action. We are fast approaching the 2015 deadline where we have to sign a new Kyoto agreement, a global climate change agreement with real targets and actions. We need the UK government to help put in place an international action plan with a timeline and milestones for increasing climate finance by all countries in the run up to 2015 and beyond.
We owe it to those who come after us to support UNICEF in the call for us all to come together and begin to achieve the changes in human behaviour that we know must happen. Without it future generations of humanity will suffer in a world from which we, in our time, have extracted and despoiled so much.
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