Five years on from the Paris Agreement we are letting our children down badly over the climate crisis

Caring for the next generation cuts across political, geographical, social and ideological fault lines – we have to use that to do more 

Frida Berry Eklund
Saturday 12 December 2020 14:21
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Greta Thunberg criticises lack of action on climate, five years on from Paris Agreement

The climate crisis is escalating and in the eye of the storm are our most vulnerable citizens – our children. As a parent, I am deeply worried about the future that we are handing over to the next generation. 

The recent news that we are heading for a 3C warmer world within our children’s lifetimes is a living nightmare – it means an unthinkable future for our children.

With global average temperatures this November the highest ever recorded, it is clear that five years on from the signing of the Paris Agreement, we are far off the goal of limiting global heating to well below 2C and pursuing 1.5C.

Five years ago I was in Paris for the global climate summit, COP21. I had brought my two children along, then aged one and four years old. A few months before we had just founded Our Kids’ Climate, a global network engaging parents and families to act on the climate crisis. 

We were there carrying the message of our children to world leaders. Our goal was – and is – to wake up the millions of parents out there to the threat of the climate crisis to our children’s lives, health and futures.

In the five years that have passed since the pen was put to paper, my youngest has learnt how to ride a bike and read.  She has blossomed into a young nature protector. Her care for all living beings in part of her DNA. I sometimes find her carrying a snail, sucked gently onto her arm. She cried for the earwig that drowned in the lake this summer. The connection with other living beings is so strong.

But what hasn’t happened in the past five years is the Paris Agreement being put into practice. Sure, some progress has been made, but our global emissions still haven't peaked.

As our children grow, they are realising that adults around them seem unable to do what it takes to protect them – to give them a liveable future. They are worried and angry, and rightly so.

Children’s lives are cut short and their health impacted already today by climate-related disasters such as droughts, storms and floods. Allergies and asthma in children are increasing due to longer pollen seasons.  And 93 per cent of the world’s children under the age of 15 years are breathing very polluted air.

The WHO–Unicef–Lancet Commission report A future for the world's children? shows that although rich countries are better at ensuring child health and development overall, their high per capita emissions are at the same time destroying the lives and futures of all children.  

A journalist working on a news show for children, recently told me that one of the most common questions she gets from young people is: “When is the world going to end?”

It’s a reasonable question and one that we shouldn’t not brush off. Because our children are impacted right now, both by the climate crisis itself, but also by information about it.

Children’s mental health is suffering, both from direct exposure to traumatic climate-related events, but also when they learn about climate change in school, through the news or in social media. Some become very distressed and worried.

A recent survey by my Swedish climate-parent group Vara barns klimat, showed that only half of 12–18-year-olds think that we will be able to solve the climate crisis. Many have lost hope in their future.  

So why are world leaders dragging their feet, even though they know that our collective failure to address the climate crisis is destroying the very foundation for our children's lives, health and futures?

Some of the answers are: hard and furious lobbying by the dying and desperate fossil-fuel industry; that it’s difficult for our brains to perceive the slow-rolling climate crisis as an immediate threat, and not enough pressure from the public to hold leaders to account for failure.

In fact, Article 12 in the Paris Agreement points clearly to public education and engagement being central for the rest of the agreement to succeed. In short: politicians won’t ditch fossil fuels and rebuild our societies based on sustainability unless people – you and me – demand this. They don’t want to risk getting voted out. This is why building public pressure is so crucial.

For this, parents are key. We can put pressure on leaders to do what is necessary to protect our children, and their children. We’re everywhere in society. In boardrooms, on factory floors, in schools and in politics.

Our wish for a decent – or even great – future for our children is universal. As is the urge to protect the children we love. Love and care for the next generation cuts across political, geographical, social and ideological fault lines.

And it can invoke parents to do remarkable things in the name of love.  It’s a super power, not to be messed with. If more parents knew what was really at stake for their children, wouldn’t we rise up in the millions, or even billions? 

Frida Berry Eklund is the founder of Our Kids’ Climate

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