Banjul, 19 November 2021–Evidence has consistently shown that while children and young people are the least responsible for climate change and its effects, they will bear the greatest burden of its impact. As we celebrate World Children’s Day, on 20 November 2021, children and young people are asking what the increasing number and magnitude of windstorms, rising season levels, erosion, and floods could mean for their futures and for the lives and livelihoods of their families, most of whom depend on agriculture for sustenance. They are seeking answers and demanding strong participation in shaping climate policies.
In a July 2020U-Report poll, more than 48% of young people in The Gambia who participated in the poll said “rains and floods” were the biggest climate change-related challenges their communities were facing. In the same poll, 50% of the respondents mentioned “lesser food production” as the biggest change they had observed in their surroundings recently. This poll clearly shows that young people have become increasingly concerned about climate change.
“Reframing children and young people as partners, ensuring their equitable access to climate knowledge, and providing opportunities for their meaningful participation will help achieve more effective and relevant child-sensitive climate policies,” said Gordon Jonathan Lewis, UNICEF The Gambia Representative. “The Gambia has made important gains in this area, but we must do more to address the climate crisis and secure the futures of children.”
The Gambia has emerged as a global leader in climate action, having been recently recognizedby the 2021 Climate Action Tracker rankings as the only country in the world whose commitments are in line with the 1.5C Paris Agreement goal. These gains were further solidified by the country’s strong presence at the recent COP26, where the Vice President of The Gambia and other senior government officials led a delegation that included young people.
A recent UNICEF analysis showed that The Gambia was among the few countries, only 34 per cent, whose national climate policies are child sensitive. The analysis was made from the Nationally Determined Contributions – or NDCs – that were updated ahead of COP26 and represent a commitment by the countries which had signed the Paris Agreement.
The Gambia must now build on these gains and do more to meet the SDG 13 targets and address the concerns being raised by children and young people who are demanding better policies and stronger action to protect lives and safeguard the country’s marine resources, farmlands, forest reserves and coastline.To respond to the climate crisis with the interests of children and young people at the heart of all decisions, UNICEF recommends:
- Increase and sustain investments in climate adaptation and resilience.
- Strengthen the involvement of young people in all climate negotiations and decisions and ensure that this participation is a permanent feature of policy discussions.
- Proactively address the climate concerns of children and young people before policies and programmes are finalized and implemented.
The climate crisis is a child rights crisis and we must take urgent action to protect every child. Not tomorrow, but today.