Preserving the Planet for Our Children
By Sultan Latif, Director, Humanitarian Climate Crisis Unit
Wildfires rage through west coast cities and forests, eerily reddening skies. Simultaneous hurricanes and tropical storms batter the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern seaboard, ravaging coastal communities. And this is just in the continental United States. Other countries are suffering from severe droughts, extreme heat, flash floods, and more. The world has shifted from climate change to climate crisis.
The climate crisis hurts us today in a myriad of ways. Children are particularly vulnerable to its effects, and as adults, they will bear the burden of accelerating harm to our planet.
During the worst of this year’s wildfire season, Portland and San Francisco recorded the worst air quality in the world. In total, more than 5 million acres of land burned. The wildfires have traumatized countless families with the loss of lives, livelihoods, and property. Such disasters dramatically alter children’s daily lives, keeping them from school, trapping them indoors, or forcing them to endure unhealthy air.
Similarly, more frequent and powerful hurricanes and cyclones displace families, destroy schools, and can even separate children from caregivers. Save the Children focuses its response efforts on supporting kids in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, getting them back in school and childcare as soon as possible, and training caregivers and teachers to support children’s social and emotional recovery. We take this holistic approach because extreme weather events impact all aspects of children’s lives.
The impacts of climate change are not felt equally, with people in developing countries often bearing the worst impacts. Climate change can cause droughts and flooding that drive food insecurity; women and girls can be particularly hard hit as scarce food resources are often prioritized for men and boys. Further, women subsistence farmers in Africa are less likely to be able to access credit, land ownership, or other assets that will help them better adapt their farming efforts to be resilient to climate change. The subsequent devastation to economies, livelihoods, food security, and health are denying children around the world the safety and well-being they are entitled to. As climate change intensifies, today’s children are destined to welcome their own sons and daughters into even more unstable and threatening conditions. We must make meaningful changes or things will only get worse.
How can our leaders reverse this alarming momentum?
- First, the U.S. must rejoin the Paris Agreement. In 2015, the U.S. Government signed the international agreement to reduce global temperature rise and curb the effects of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While the Paris Agreement is not the only solution, it does give children a fighting chance of protecting our planet.
- Second, the federal government must reassess all environmental regulations that have been altered or adjusted in the last four years. A tremendous number of climate-protections have been weakened or replaced since 2016. For example, the Clean Power Plan, which set emission limits on high-polluting power plants, was replaced by the drastically scaled-back Affordable Clean Energy rule.
In addition, the U.S. Government must take action to help mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis as it is already impacting children.
- The U.S. Government should support the Green Climate Fund, including support to mitigate the worst impacts on climate on children around the world.
- USAID should ensure that all programming on humanitarian crises, resilience, and food security integrate strong gender and climate analysis and include targeted programs to mitigate the immediate and long-term impacts of climate change on children and families.
Our planet is in peril. The government must act now. America must be a climate leader, not a laggard—our children’s futures depend on it.
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