A Call to Action
1. Provide us with climate change education and green skills — these are essential if we are to learn to adapt, prepare for and protect ourselves from climate change related threats.
2. Uphold our right to be heard by creating mechanisms that not only require you to consult with us, but which also ensure you include us in climate-related decision-making.
3. Invest in our future by addressing and responding to the climate crisis now through the prioritisation and fast-tracking of green, low-carbon initiatives.
Children are growing up in a time being described by the world’s scientists as a global ‘climate emergency’ and ‘climate disaster.’ In response, children and young people have been vocalising their increasing concern about growing inequality, fragmenting societies, and the impact of climate change around the world, particularly on vulnerable populations.
Young South Australians repeatedly call for climate action, and climate change consistently appears in the top 5 issues South Australian children and young people raise with me.
“Not many people listen to us and climate change will be worse for us.” — 12 year old
South Australian primary school aged children have told me that climate change, pollution, the ocean, waste, plastics, drought, deforestation, and bushfires make them feel uncertain about the future and contribute to a feeling of hopelessness. They have also said playing outside in nature and with animals is important for their wellbeing, and that they want to be involved in community efforts focused on protecting these places and spaces for future generations.
[We need] …education on how to be environmentally friendly. Without a healthy and clean environment, future generations will not be able to live life to the fullest.” — 14 year old
Regardless of where they live, children and young people are regularly exposed to the reality of climate change, either through their everyday experiences or through various media channels. They read news stories and hear reports about it every day. They see images and watch video footage about extreme weather events, air pollution, rising sea levels, and loss of biodiversity occurring in their own regions as well as in places around the globe.
Their concerns about the impact of drought and their fears for farmers and their livelihoods are real. They worry the Murray River will run out of water; that there will not be enough to sustain the needs of the state or put out bushfires when these happen.
“If I were the boss of South Australia, I would… actually do something about the environment instead of lying and putting pressure on my generation.” — 12 year old
Their fear of climate related disasters is having significant impact on their physical and mental health and wellbeing. So much so that this has now been declared by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as a major child rights issue.
Whilst the inclusion of children’s rights in the preamble of the Paris Agreement is welcome, this statement is not enough to ensure that progress towards a child rights-based approach to action on climate change is adopted more broadly. Australia’s current climate policy does not look at the issue through a child-lens. Nor does it consider child rights and the impact climate change has on these now and in the future. Children’s basic rights are being overlooked. They are facing the consequences of a climate crisis that they are least responsible for having created.
“At this rate, our job in the future will be to live with the impact that past generations have left on our Earth. The government needs to address things such as climate change and realise that it isn’t science fiction — it’s real life and if we don’t do anything about it soon, it will be too late.” — 12 year old
Key to children’s interest in the environment is their sense of justice, they see clearly what climate change means for the people, places, and animals they care about. They see a lack of action on the part of adults who they believe can make changes right now to protect the environment and mitigate against further impact from climate change in the future.
Climate change also has a disproportionate effect on children and young people’s everyday lives. They are now having to learn to live with more floods, droughts, heatwaves, and bushfires as they witness extreme weather incidents occurring more often and with greater severity across their own regions.
“SA [South Australia] looks very nice now, and I would like it to stay like that for the future. This is very important. Because when I was little, I used to always go to the hills with my family on walks and bike rides. I want others to have the same opportunities as me.”– 16 year old
In the 21st century these concerns are emerging as key issues affecting intergenerational trust. When governments and leaders dismiss children and young people’s concerns and take limited or no action to address the issues they see as critical, it leaves them doubting adult authority and social order. Add to this the fact that there are few mechanisms to support children and young people’s participation in decision-making in relation to action on climate change and their lack of trust inevitably grows. It not only undermines their trust and confidence in adult leaders and institutions now but erodes their confidence in the likelihood of being able to fulfil their hopes and dreams in the future. Children’s rights must be integrated into climate action if we are to ensure that climate projects respect, protect, promote, and fulfil their rights rather than undermine them.
“The government needs to consider our future. They need to start making positive impacts on the environment now.” — 17 year old
What children and young people currently understand is that we are on the brink of a disaster that will impact on the people, places, and animals they care about. They also understand that it is not something happening in far off locations but right here on their own back doorstep.
There is a sense of fear among South Australian children and young people that adults and leaders are leaving it ‘too late’ to do anything about climate change and that it has been left to them to ‘clean up’ the mess left by previous generations of climate change deniers.
“Push for a sustainable future to help slow the effects of climate change. Push for recycling. More gardens & parks in our city. Reach a zero emissions target.” — 17 year old
In response to the mountain of scientific evidence highlighting the critical need for urgent climate action now, many children and young people feel despair and frustration at what they see is a lack of action to protect the environment and mitigate the impacts of climate change while there is still time. They want to see more focus placed on developing and transitioning to renewable energy solutions faster to eliminate the world’s dependency on fossil fuels.
“I want coal industries to be replaced by renewables so children, especially the poor are not affected by future climate change — so indigenous children can remain on country as the most affected by these industries will be the least privileged — so it’s vital.” — 18 year old
Evidence indicates some of the significant impacts of climate change can still be halted or even reversed with policy redirection and reinvestment. But this message, and information about any positive actions on climate change rarely reaches children and young people. It is our job to allay their fears and to affirm that their right to a positive future is our priority.