Universal Children’s Day: Pacific Children are on the front line of climate change

Universal Children’s Day 2015 is an opportunity to reflect on a year of huge significance for children in the Pacific. September saw the launch of a new global development agenda which sets out a road map based on 17 Sustainable Development Goals to take us to 2030. There may be 17 goals to work towards but they all have the same aim – ensuring a better future for today’s children and generations to come. For the first time, Goal 13 also puts climate action firmly in its sights, global recognition of the very real threats posed by climate change.

In parallel with this, another key global milestone in 2015 is the 21st United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (UNFCCC COP21) in Paris. COP 21 will bring world leaders together to achieve a legally-binding universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.

UNICEF Pacific Deputy Representative Isabelle Austin welcomes both milestones in saying, “The view from the Pacific is clear. We can speak with certainty and conviction when we say climate change is among the greatest threats to children in the region. It is exacerbating and speeding up already existing challenges in low-lying countries such as Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands. It is threatening to undo development gains made over decades – and it is threatening the very future of countries in the region.”

The Pacific region is also home to four of the world’s ten most disaster-prone countries – Vanuatu, Tonga, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, many of which are finding the frequency and intensity of natural disasters increasing dramatically due to climate change.

Families, communities and governments across the Pacific are currently feeling the impacts of El Niño, with worsening drought conditions and predictions of an intense cyclone season ahead. While climate change does not cause El Niño cycles, it does exacerbate their impact. Many of the same countries affected by El Niño have yet to recover fully from the impacts of Cyclone Pam and Cyclone Maysak earlier this year.

UNICEF is supporting children, families and governments as they respond to El Niño. In partnership with NGOs we are training and supporting grassroots health workers to identify and treat children who are showing signs of malnutrition and diarrhea. We are supporting schools to stay open and providing water for their students through these challenging times. Our water, sanitation and hygiene teams are working around the clock to prevent the spread of disease and get water to communities that need it most. At all times we consider the specific needs of those who are most vulnerable, including pregnant and new mothers, very young children, adolescent girls and those with disabilities.

Ms Austin added, “Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather conditions and climate change. Communities are rightfully afraid that terrifying and destructive events such as Category 5 tropical cyclones, will become the ‘new normal’.

“At UNICEF Pacific, we see clear ways that children can participate in the response to these threats – integrated, collaborative approaches, with children as key partners, are required to face the complex challenges that climate change poses to child rights. Ahead of COP 21, we remind all world leaders of this opportunity to engage children and young people to create a better future for all children.”