The Blog

IF: The Word of Hope for Children at Davos

There was more than just the issue of the UK's future in Europe on the lips of leaders and influencers at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year. Two other words took an unanticipated, but deserved, prominence: climate change.

There was more than just the issue of the UK's future in Europe on the lips of leaders and influencers at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year. Two other words took an unanticipated, but deserved, prominence: climate change. And for once it wasn't just NGOs and activists stating the case that unless the issue is addressed, future generations will be "toasted, roasted, fried and grilled."

This unflinching statement was from the world's most powerful economist, the IMF's Christine Lagarde, who chose to use her moment in the Davos spotlight to issue a warning to world and business leaders that future generations - our children and our children's children - can no longer wait for us to tackle the challenges of a changing climate.

Her comments sparked some surprise amongst economic commentators. For me, not so much. In fact, they chimed perfectly with my own comments at Davos, as we at UNICEF UK together with more than 100 other organisations, launched a huge new mass movement: Enough food in the world for everyone IF.

As the name suggests, the focus of the campaign it is not simply about asking for more money to help feed the world. It is about addressing the root causes of child malnutrition so that we can eradicate hunger for good, rather than just stem its flow. As well as aid and climate finance, the campaign calls for action to ensure Governments of developing countries can collect the tax revenues they need, and that land is used to grow food, especially through supporting small farmers.

Ours could be the generation that eliminates hunger for good. IF our leaders summon the will and resources to make it happen. One of the key challenges we must meet is to break the inextricable connection between child hunger and climate change. Floods, droughts, increasingly ferocious and changing weather patterns are all affecting food production, pushing up prices and leaving too many children with too little to eat and without the nutrients to grow up healthy.

The world has made progress in reducing child hunger in the last 20 years, but climate change threatens to reverse these gains and hold us back from the historic achievement of eliminating hunger. The impact of climate change on poorer countries could, by 2050, leave 25 million more children malnourished.

The acknowledgement of this issue at Davos - where the most powerful economists and business leaders of the world gather - demonstrates that climate change is no longer just a moral issue; but one that will become an ever growing barrier to sustainable economic growth if left unchecked. Lagarde as an economist recognises the importance of investing now, so that we save more in the future.

165 million children - nearly three times the entire population of the UK - are stunted because of malnutrition, because they didn't get the right nutrients in their first 1,000 days of life. This causes irreversible damage to their brain and body, leaving them unable to learn, nor earn as much as they could if they had been properly nourished.

UNICEF is a global leader in the effort to deliver life-saving nutritional support to the world's poorest children: promoting breastfeeding; fortifying diets with vitamins and minerals; treating children who are severely malnourished with life-saving emergency food; preventing and treating diseases like diarrhoea; and ensuring that vulnerable families have the money to feed their children.

I have seen these vital interventions in action and they work. It IS possible to stop children being killed or damaged by hunger and malnutrition IF we all take action to make it happen.

That means we need our Government to work to mobilise global support from other world leaders in the knowledge that tackling climate change and addressing hunger and malnutrition are fantastic investments. It has been estimated that tackling chronic under nutrition of children could cost $10bn a year and return $125bn a year to the global economy by 2030.

The same economic argument relates to investment in disaster risk reduction to help countries respond to climate change. In Ethiopia, a country prone to drought and regular food crises, investing in climate resilience strategies could save the country over $3.3 billion over twenty years. Surely it is better, both economically and for the affected children, to prevent a crisis than to respond to it after it has happened.

The word 'IF' holds such huge potential. 'If' only we could do this or achieve that, a phrase we use often, but is now being put to the test. Today, for the millions of children who go to bed hungry at night or risk losing their future dreams because they don't have the nutrients to grow up mentally and physically healthy, that word IF holds great hope.

"We can eradicate absolute poverty in a generation" David Cameron said at Davos. "There should be, there will be, and I will back a major push on tackling child hunger and stunting this year." Not next year nor the year after, but this year. With the UK hosting the G8 and David Cameron co-chairing the high level panel determining the next development goals, now is his strongest chance to influence other world leaders to act on child hunger, which includes tackling the effects of climate change that could otherwise make it worse not better.

This is the moment that together we can achieve real change. I believe we can do it, as does David Cameron. Do you believe it too?