Reflections on World Environment Day

Today as we celebrate World Environment Day, it is important to reflect on how the current collective global moment that we are experiencing with Covid-19 has, in a strange way, created opportunities for us to take bold climate actions.  Two months ago, who would have thought that polluting factories would be closed, highways and roads would be silent, and our airspace would be free of air traffic?  Who would have thought that as much as 2.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide would not be emitted into the atmosphere?

The climate crisis is perhaps the greatest single threat to children’s survival, learning and protection.  The current trajectory the world continues to be on, with climate action ignored or sidelined, presents a tremendous challenge to the global community and to international aid agencies such as Save the Children, responding to the needs of children in crisis.  Temperatures are rising, Co2 emissions are not declining and a result, children are exposed, particularly children that are already marginalized and deprived, to increased risks of life threatening climate related hazards.  In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans.  Flooding, droughts, hurricanes, wildfires are on the rise, and their impact on children’s well-being is real and significant.

This generation of children, whose lives are shaped by the realities of climate inaction, are at risk of not realizing their social, economic, political and civil rights. Earlier this year, UN Secretary General, António Guterres issued a Global Call for Action on Human Rights, with an emphasis on the rights of children when it comes to the environment. It calls for universal recognition of the “right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment”, and for increasing the focus on protecting the rights of those doing this work. Climate change and the well-being of children are inextricably linked.

Furthermore, children have been at the forefront of climate change activism.  Their voices have been loud and clear.  However, despite their persistent mobilization, children’s views and voices in climate change discussions, commitments and policy developments are limited. progress has been made by Greta Thunberg, Autumn Peltier and others in getting youth voices to the table, but more can and should be done.  At Save the Children, we have a unique role to play in supporting the creation of an enabling environment that allows children to realize their right to participate in decisions that affect them, and crucially, to be part of the solution.

Today, as we celebrate World Environment Day, we should be asking ourselves: what are the new behaviors and practices that we should vociferously retain when we return to the new normal?  How have the lockdowns triggered by COVID-19 forced us to redefine our relationship with the environment?  How are children experiencing the changed way of living, and what do they think we should continue to do, even after COVID-19 is gone? This virus has indeed offered us a glimpse into a different way of living and working: a world which 6 months ago we would not have envisaged.  A world in which our cities become pedestrian and cyclist friendly, where the air is significantly less polluted and where big mega cities such as Los Angeles are, for the first time in history able to meet WHO air quality guidelines.

While the COVID-19 crisis will eventually pass, the climate crisis and its negative effects on children will not, particularly for the most vulnerable children and their families around the world.  In fact, experts predict that the risks and effects of the virus will increase exponentially with time. The steps that many governments are taking to mitigate and then recover from COVID -19 offer an opportunity to invest in green economies and to continue to practice change behaviors and practices brought on by COVID-19.

So far, 2020 has seen communities around the globe coming together in unprecedented ways to stop the spread of COVID-19. This commitment to the safety and well-being of others’ can and must carry over to our responsibilities to others after this crisis is over. Children growing up today can benefit from the actions of individuals, organizations, and governments if we take our learnings from the coronavirus pandemic and apply them to the great challenges we face with climate change.

By Marlen Mondaca, Special Advisor to the CEO on Strategy and Thought Leadership at Save the Children