COP26 kicks off Sunday, the start of what many hope will mark a turning point in the current climate crisis — a chance for countries to join together and jumpstart action needed to fulfill the promises made under the Paris Agreement.
The much-anticipated climate summit, to be held in Glasgow Oct. 31 through Nov. 12, is also an important opportunity for UNICEF and other champions for children to push governments to elevate the role of young people in driving climate solutions and to honor their priorities for action.
There's a lot at stake. In many parts of the world, people are facing multiple climate-related impacts such as severe drought and flooding, air pollution and water scarcity, leaving their children vulnerable to malnutrition and disease.
Almost every child on Earth is exposed to at least one of these climate and environmental hazards.
But climate change and related crises do not affect everyone equally. Children suffer more than adults, and those in the poorest communities bear the biggest burdens.
Without urgent action, climate-related threats to health, safety and future well-being will only intensify
For UNICEF, COP26 is a chance to secure stronger commitments from countries and other key partners to advance three key objectives:
- cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 45 percent (compared to 2010 levels) by 2030 to keep global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius: Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have hit an all-time high, and according to the latest data, Prof. Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization warns, "We are way off track."
- increase investment in climate adaptation and resilience: UNICEF urges developed countries to make good on their 2009 promise to mobilize $100 billion annually in climate finance to support the needs of developing nations in order to meet emission reduction targets — with half of those funds dedicated to adaptation.
- include young people in all climate negotiations and decisions: UNICEF continues to urge world leaders to listen to those who have the most at stake in the planet's future, and especially those living in places that have been most affected by climate change impacts — helping to facilitate youth activism on multiple fronts. Young people should not be viewed as passive bystanders in tackling the challenges of climate change, UNICEF argues. They have critical skills, experiences and ideas we need to better mitigate and adapt to climate change and must be partners in shaping solutions.
For UNICEF, all three of these goals are crucial for achieving a safe, sustainable and water-secure world for children.
Addressing climate change impacts overlaps with almost every major UNICEF program area
UNICEF's strategies for mitigating impacts and helping communities adapt to climate change are closely intertwined with many longstanding pillars of UNICEF's mission. UNICEF works with partners around the world to identify and implement affordable, scalable solutions to help curb the impact of climate change on the lives of children — and to adapt to new realities.
Take water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) — a core UNICEF program area for decades. The climate crisis is limiting children’s access to safe water and is contributing to increasing water scarcity. When a child lacks sufficient access to clean water, it threatens every aspect of that child’s life — their survival and their future. UNICEF’s WASH program is already using innovative solutions, like solar-powered water pumps and treatment systems and rainwater harvesting, to reduce these impacts.
Education is another area where climate concerns are driving intervention strategies. UNICEF is working with partners to bring climate education to more schools and to make education systems more resilient to climate change impacts.
Adapting to climate change and building resilience is an important and integral part of UNICEF's response to natural disasters. UNICEF responds to hundreds of emergencies every year, bringing relief to children and families who are displaced and otherwise affected by hurricanes and other extreme weather events — which are only growing more frequent, more intense and more destructive as a result of climate change.
The effects of climate change in Central America — massive floods swallowing entire villages, destroying livelihoods and pushing more and more people into extreme poverty — has been a major factor in children and families seeking to migrate north to Mexico and to the U.S. In 2020 alone, climate-related disasters displaced 30 million people worldwide — three times as many as were displaced by violence and conflict.
UNICEF and partners are looking to find ways to leverage these challenges — and turn them into opportunities to drive solutions — to turn young people who are uprooted by climate impacts into key agents of change.
What happens at COP26 will shape the lives of every child in every nation on earth — now and in the future.
"We have a very narrow window of opportunity to prevent the worst impacts of climate change," says Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Climate Action, Selwin Hart. "Climate action is not something that can be delayed for 10, 20 or 30 years. We must take urgent and ambitious action now."
The climate crisis is a child rights crisis — an unprecedented threat to all children and young people. Learn more about what UNICEF is doing to save and protect vulnerable children from the impacts of climate change.
Top photo: A boy in Bilwi, Nicaragua, sits on what remains of his family's home after Hurricane Iota. Storms and other extreme weather events are growing more intense and more frequent as a result of climate change. In 2020, natural disasters displaced 30 million people — three times as many as were displaced by violence and conflict. © UNICEF/UN0372377/Ocon/AFP-Services