2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) Results Statement

November 2021“[We] face a moment of truth for our planet, for our children and for our grandchildren.”

This is the statement COP president Alok Sharma read to delegates in the final moments of marathon talks at COP26 in November 2021. After two weeks of debate in Glasgow, on 12 November diplomats from almost 200 countries agreed to ramp up their carbon-cutting commitments, phase out some fossil fuels and increase aid to poor countries on the front lines of climate change. Once again, and since the inception of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), the negotiators and leaders overlooked the disproportionate burden that young children aged 0-8 will suffer due to a changing climate, as well as recognize the power of investing in young children’s development as part of climate change mitigation, adaptation, and resilience, and the movement towards sustainable development.

 The Greatest Risk: How Young Children Bear the Brunt of Harm from Climate Change. As most vulnerable persons in the world’s most vulnerable populations, young children aged 0-8 will bear the brunt of the negative impacts brought by climate change. The World Health Organization highlights how climate change and environmental issues have the greatest impact on children’s health, growth and development as well as the wellbeing of pregnant women and foetuses (World Health Organisation, 2019).  This impact will increase as millions of children born in this year will face, on average, 2-7 times more extreme weather events than their grandparents, including more heatwaves, floods, droughts, crop failures, typhoons/hurricanes, and wildfires (Save the Children, 2021). These extreme weather events have intensified child poverty and vulnerability and are directly causing climate-induced migration and displacement (Save the Children, 2021), indeed in 2020 there were to 9.8 million child displacements in 2020 –up to 26,800 children a day (UNICEF, 2021).  This vulnerability has been further exacerbated by overlapping crises of conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic, and environmental risks and hazards. Climate-related disasters wreak havoc on families and communities and increase toxic stress among young children which harms their brain development. The loss of livelihoods and increased food insecurity increases child malnutrition and impacts on caregivers’ abilities to keep their children in early childhood education or support their children’s healthcare.  Climate change can also indirectly heighten the risk of conflict by intensifying existing social, economic, and environmental challenges, and countries are less able to cope with climate change because their capacity to adapt is reduced by conflict. (ICRC, 2020). As communities face climate stress, families relocate to informal settlements, which increases children’s exposure to violence, abuse, and exploitation, including child labour, extreme poverty, and reduced access to critical health, education, and psychosocial support services. These damages and disruptions in the early years not only impact the present quality of life of young children but also set the stage for long-term trajectories of risk and impacts for individuals, communities and nations. Failing to address the risks of climate change to young children undermines the long-term agenda of climate adaptation sustainable development.

The Glasgow Climate Pact was the global agreement approved by nearly 200 countries at the end of COP26 which aims to reduce the worst impacts of climate change and hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. It recognises, to some extent, the importance of focusing on climate-vulnerable cohorts such as children, indigenous peoples and local communities. It acknowledges that when taking action to address climate change, parties should ‘promote and consider [children’s] respective obligations on human rights’, that children have an important role as non-party stakeholders in ‘contributing to progress towards the goals of the Paris Agreement’ and, most importantly, that children ‘should be included in addressing and responding to climate change…highlighting the urgent need for multilevel and cooperative action’ (UNFCC, 2021).  However, there is no distinction between ‘young children’, ‘school aged children’ and ‘youth.’ There is a need to put attention to young children aged 0-8 in terms of both the impact of climate change on their wellbeing and development and of how investing in early childhood can support climate adaptation and sustainable futures.  

Our climate is our children’s future. Their future is shaped by our actions now. 


Opportunity: Early Childhood Policies and Programs as the Key Building Blocks of Climate Change Mitigation, Adaptation and Resilience

Investing in young children is a smart investment and should be placed at the forefront of the fight against climate change. Research shows that the return on every $1 invested in early years of life, specifically the first thousand days, can be as high as $13 (UNICEF, World Bank, 2018).  Preschool programs serve as an excellent example of the power of early childhood in achieving a more sustainable future as they can foster valuable skills which leads to appropriate employment and bridges the inequity gap, improves health outcomes, strengthens the skilled workforce, grows the economy and reduces social spending (Heckman, 2017).  Projected to the community, these impacts add up to improved use of resources, less waste, increased motivation and capacity to be involved in civic actions to address climate change challenges (Cerezo, 2015). Over time, these benefits create truly sustainable communities with the infrastructure and capacity for innovation that allow the benefits to be incremental and long-term. When we provide high-quality, comprehensive, equitable, and accessible early childhood programs, we make a sustainable future real (Cerezo, 2015).

Pledges and commitments from countries based on the Glasgow agreement need to clearly show howand when they will include young children in their climate responses, specifically through the following actions: (i) inclusion in financing mechanisms and investments for climate change; (ii) recognition of the impact of climate change on young children in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs); and (iii) inclusion in global and national climate-sensitive policies and national adaptation plans.

Without extensive emissions reductions, financing focusing on the most vulnerable, and efforts to address the crucial issue of loss and damage, the Glasgow agreement pledges will not safeguard young children’s rights to a clean, safe and secure environment in which children cannot only survive, but also thrive and live in dignity.

This is why, in the lead up to COP27, governments, donors, multilaterals, the private sector, civil society, and other partners and stakeholders must place young children at the heart of the climate change decisions. We aim to convene an Early Childhood Caucus and ask that it becomes part of the preparatory meetings in the lead up to and during COP27 in Cairo next year so that the youngest children are included from the start.  

To ensure the above is realised, we reinforce the priority asks from the global call to action jointly issued by ARNEC, ECDAN, Save the children and UNICEF at the beginning of COP26:

  • Increase investments which promote the nurturing care of young children, targeting the most climate-vulnerable and impacted most by inequality and discrimination, and young children in lower- and middle-income countries where inequalities have been exacerbated by the combined effects of the climate crisis, hazards and risks from environmental issues, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Investing in young children’s development is an essential part of the solution.
  • Ensure that National Governments deliver on their committed NDCs that outline localised climate actions, targets, and policies. The emphasis should be on ensuring high income countries responsible for the most greenhouse gas emissions show greater commitment to climate action, focusing on financing and adaptation.
  • Ensure that global and national climate-sensitive policies and national adaptation plans address the direct and indirect impacts of climate change on the youngest children and support countries to increase access to climate-adapted early childhood development (ECD) programs from birth in order to protect young children’s health, wellbeing, safety and development from the impact of climate change.
  • Build evidence through research and evaluation to inform policy choices and investment decisions and raise awareness on the central role of early childhood development in protecting young children from the lifelong impacts of climate change, and effectively monitor and track impacts on their health, wellbeing, and development.
  • Empower civil society to implement locally led, child-sensitive and gender-responsive actions on climate change, ensuring that the voices of the youngest children — as future custodians of our planet – are heard, both directly and indirectly, through their parents, caregivers, and communities and integrated in early learning programs and services. 

We stand with the youngest children and urge for their voices to be heard. Young children must be at the forefront of the fight against climate change and be included in pledges made in Egypt for COP27 and implemented in the years that follow. Urgent action is needed now to realise the rights of the youngest children and protect their future against the climate crisis that they will so unfairly have to face. Investing in young children is part of the solution to address climate change.   Our actions today shape our children’s future.

Join us! Early childhood development must be at the forefront of the fight against climate change. Urgent action is needed now to realise the rights of the youngest children and protect their future against the climate crisis.