Dear President-designate Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber,
As the United Arab Emirates readies for the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP), we, the undersigned, write to you to urge you to ensure that investments in the foundational years of children, from early childhood through adolescence, are featured more prominently in climate action plans and financing. Young children, despite being least responsible for the crisis of climate change, bear the brunt of environmental-health and climate-related impacts. While they are potential agents of change in the future, young children do not have a platform to advocate for themselves. As such, they need champions to carry their message. As President-designate, we ask you to be their champion at COP 28 by giving young children a voice in the negotiations and ensuring their unique and specific vulnerabilities to climate change are addressed in the resulting commitments.
With the first-ever Global Stocktake scheduled to take place at COP 28, we face a sobering reality of how far behind we are on the goals we have set and how much work is left to do if we are to reverse course on the devastating impacts of climate change and environmental degradation. What is particularly troubling is our failure to protect our youngest children, who are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The evidence is startling, and the crisis is getting worse:
- Nearly 90% of the global health burden related to climate change is borne by children under five (Sheffield and Landrigan, 2011).
- More than 1.7 million premature deaths among children under five are caused by pollution and toxic substances annually (WHO, 2017).
- Children born in 2020 will experience, on average, twice as many wildfires, 2.8 times as much exposure to crop failure, 2.6 times as many drought events, 2.8 times as many river floods, and 6.8 times more heat waves across their lifetimes, compared to a person born in 1960 (Save the Children, 2021).
- Climate-related events have already contributed to more than 50 million children being displaced from their homes, and this number continues to rise, causing more humanitarian crises around the world.
- One in three children live in countries that face extreme high temperatures (UNICEF, 2022). Extreme weather and disaster events can prevent children from accessing childcare, schools and other learning opportunities, and health services.
- Climate change significantly affects children’s mental health and well-being (Ahdoot, et al., 2015). The stress and trauma are likely to disrupt the way a child and caregiver interact. Instability associated with displacement from severe or chronic disasters presents challenges to responsive caregiving (Moore, et al., 2007).
- Approximately 500 million children live in flood-prone areas. And 920 million children are exposed to water scarcity, with more than 10 million currently affected by drought in the Horn of Africa. In low- and middle-income countries, two in three children under five—or 478 million children—experience food poverty. These children are not fed the minimum diverse diet they need to grow and develop to their full potential, and climate-related disasters, global warming, and environmental degradation will act as a multiplier that will further compound this situation (UNICEF, 2021; Tellman, et al., 2021).
- The impacts of climate change will exacerbate gender inequality. Girls and women caregivers are particularly at risk, including increased burden of unpaid care work, increased risk of gender-based violence and families resorting to negative coping mechanisms, intergenerational impacts of stunting linked to food shortages, and poorer maternal and child health outcomes. The disadvantages that girls and women face begin in early childhood (UNDP, 2016; UN Women, 2022).
Yet despite such clear evidence, the specific needs of young children remain largely ignored in the climate-change discourse and major international agreements relating to climate change, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) agreements, the Paris Agreement’s nationally determined contributions (NDCs), and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. To date, there has been little recognition of the disproportionate impact experienced by young children and the specific support they require to mitigate and adapt to climate change and environmental degradation.
Climate financing has also not addressed this disproportionate impact. An assessment of climate financing from key multilateral climate funds serving the UNFCCC and Paris Agreement found that out of all the money given by multilateral climate funds for climate-related projects over a 17-year period, only a small portion (2.4%) met the requirements for addressing the distinct and heightened risks faced by children, strengthening the resilience of child-critical social services, and empowering children as agents of change (Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative, 2023). That funding amounted to only US$1.2 billion.
Yet more than 50 years of research and practice conclusively show the power of investing in and providing support to the youngest children and their caregiving networks. These investments are a down payment on our future. We know climate-smart early childhood development (ECD) investments and services will have significant benefits for the most vulnerable young children and families:
- Return on investment: Quality ECD programming is one of the best investments a country can make, by laying the foundation for future success and yielding improved outcomes in health, education, and economic development. (Black, Behrman, Daelmans, et al., 2021; Heckman, 2012). Specifically, investments in climate adaptation can result in up to US$10 in net economic gains for every dollar spent (UNICEF and Global Center on Adaptation, 2022).
- Increased resilience with access to nurturing care: ECD-focused climate actions can ensure good health, adequate nutrition, safety and security, responsive caregiving, and richer learning opportunities while reducing exposure to climate and environmental hazards. For instance, an estimated 26% of deaths in children under five could be prevented by addressing environmental risks (UNICEF, 2021).
- The fulfillment of children’s rights for a sustainable and peaceful future: By ensuring that every young child has the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, we can enable a strong foundation for a child to survive, grow, and thrive (UNICEF, 2021).
- Environmental benefits by amplifying children’s agency: As young children are empowered, a sense of stewardship toward the environment can be fostered among future generations to make environmentally conscious decisions while leading a just green transition toward a sustainable future (Astuto and Ruck, 2010).
Access to a clean, safe, and secure environment is foundational for all children to survive, thrive, and live in dignity. This right was reinforced and advanced in UN General Comment No. 26 on children’s rights and the environment with a special focus on climate change (UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2023). Now we must protect this right.
In your role as President-designate of COP 28, we call on you to be a champion on behalf of the world’s youngest children and work with COP stakeholders to take the following actions:
- Ensure that global and national climate-sensitive policies, systems, and action plans address the direct and indirect impacts of climate change on the youngest children and leverage nurturing care platforms to enhance preparedness, resilience, and adaptation skills for young children, their families, and communities.
- Distinguish children from youth and ensure that climate action plans explicitly address, budget for, coordinate efforts in, and monitor progress toward climate-smart solutions for young children’s development.
- Build evidence through research and evaluation to inform policy and investment decisions and raise awareness of the central role of ECD investments in protecting young children from the lifelong impacts of climate change. Ensure that public investments and decisions on climate change are evidence-based and climate-smart.
- Empower and finance civil society to implement locally-led and child-sensitive 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 into early learning interventions.
- Invest in greening education and early childhood systems to build climate resilience within children, teachers, parents, caregivers, schools, and communities so they are better equipped to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
The world’s youngest children—and their ability to reach their full potential—are counting on the decisions that are made at COP 28. We hope, through your leadership and the commitments made by governments, we can set a course for a more climate-resilient world for the benefit of all children—their health, well-being, lives, and livelihoods—everywhere.
Who have joined the call:
(Last updated: 11/30/23)
Beehive Enfance et Education
Fidelitas Scientific Execution Facility
Healing Health and Happiness
Peace Educators Allied for Children Everywhere (P.E.A.C.E., Inc.)
Spark Health Africa
Tanzania Early Childhood Education and Care-TECEC
University of Cape Town
World Vision Armenia
Youth Centre for Global Health Research
Who have joined the call:
(Last updated: 11/30/23)
A K Nurhussen
Agence nationale de la petite enfance et de la case des tout-petits
International ECD Consultant – Bernard van Leer Foundation
Siaya Community Library
Belay Kibret Addis Ababa University
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Carlos Del Castillo
Caroline Linda Awuor
Dipu Shakya, Unicef Nepal
Emmanuel Joe Foray
Orthodox Christian College
Washington University in St Louis
Tanzania Early Childhood Education and Care (TECEC)
Hassan Haghparast Bidgoli
University College London
Hira Lal Shrestha
Dr. Hiwot Hailu Amare
University of Victoria, Early Childhood Development Intercultural Partnerships
LLL Alliance for Breastfeeding Education
Mikhulu Child Development TrustUNICAF University
Parliament of Uganda
Peck Gee Chua
University of Minnesota
Dr. Priti Verma
Higher Colleges of Technology
Children Research International
Rocio Gomez Botero
Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development
Save the Children
Childfund International Kenya
ECD Coalition Malawi
The Power of Nutrition
Syeda Mariam Shah, ITA
The LEGO Foundation
Save the Children Ethiopia