Last year, Save the Children reported that the hunger crisis in Uganda, caused largely by extreme weather events, had led to parents sending toddlers of pre-school age to school with their older siblings to share their free school meals
From touring theatre plays, to letter-writing, to radio shows: thousands of children in 24 countries across the world are marking World Environment Day by launching a “week of action” to draw attention to issues of the climate crisis and inequality.
Supported by Save the Children as part of its Generation Hope campaign to support children to raise their voice, the young people involved hope that their calls for change will be heard by leaders and policymakers as they prepare for the review of progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the UN General Assembly in New York in September.
A report by Save the Children published last year, Generation Hope: 2.4 billion reasons to end the global climate and inequality crisis, found that an estimated 774 million children – one third of the world’s child population – are living with the dual risks of poverty and high climate risk.
In Albania, a group of child campaigners recently undertook a survey looking into the impact of air pollution across four major cities and found it had negative impacts on children including asthma, headaches and lack of concentration at school[i]. Now, those same children have been inspired to produce and perform a play to educate older generations about why change is needed.
Martina, 15, is one of the children involved in the play “The Windmill”, being picked up again this week after attracting an audience of 300 people back in December. The 12 children involved, aged between 10 and 16, aim to reach a total of 300 more people before the SDG summit in September.
Martina plays the part of a girl named Sara who is taking part in a community project to install a windmill in her village to generate renewable energy. She said: “Our show addresses climate change and economic inequality, which are important issues because they affect our daily lives and the sustainability of the planet.
“These issues affect my life and that of many other children because they cause natural disasters, negatively affect the planet and economic inequality brings crises in health care and access to education. With this show we hope that people will become aware and act against economic inequality and climate change.
“In my opinion, adults should listen to children because we have unique ideas and perspectives that will help us move forward.”
Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, children are using the week of action to write letters to leaders about how the climate crisis is already taking its toll on their lives. In Uganda, 13-year-old Doreen will send a letter saying: “There is no rain and crops are not growing because they’re not watered. We shall not have food. What is going to be done to solve this problem?”
Last year, Save the Children reported that the hunger crisis in Uganda, caused largely by extreme weather events, had led to parents sending toddlers of pre-school age to school with their older siblings to share their free school meals.
In Nepal, a giant white teddy bear that is two month into an epic six-month journey around the country to raise awareness of air pollution is going into schools to meet children and record their concerns.
And in Peru, Save the Children is facilitating dialogues between child-led organisations, including from migrant and ethnic minority communities, to discuss how the climate crisis and inequality are affecting their rights, and how they can try to effect change. These children are now sharing these concerns with leaders in a variety of ways that speak to the diversity of languages and cultures in Peru, including writing their hopes and demands in letters, and recording audio and video of themselves. Some are also meeting with authorities directly to voice their demands.
Inger Ashing, CEO at Save the Children, said:
“For years now we have seen children and young people all over the world take to the streets, march, and demand that their leaders take action to tackle the climate crisis.
“This year marks the halfway point of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed upon seven years ago – it’s a critical point to reflect on where we are and determine the steps we need to take for children around the world. As we approach the SDG summit in September it is compelling to see children express creative ways to demand change.”
“The climate crisis has an impact on almost every aspect of children’s lives, from having enough food on the table to having a safe and secure home to being able to concentrate in the classroom during scorching heatwaves. And it is the children most affected by inequality and discrimination who bear the brunt of climate change, time and again. This World Environment Day, we hope that leaders across the world will listen to what children are saying and step-up climate financing to create a greener, fairer planet for and with children.”