Climate Change: Have You Heard the Voices of Children

This year’s Climate and Society class is out in the field (or lab or office) completing a summer internship or thesis. They’ll be documenting their experiences one blog post at a time. Read on to see what they’re up to.

By Yang Zhong, Climate and Society 2014

Yang at her desk at the UNICEF offices.

Yang at her desk at the UNICEF offices.

Everyone on Earth is somehow going to be affected by climate change. Children are extremely vulnerable to climate impacts and they’ll be forced to deal with the long-lasting changes carbon emissions are driving.

Yet their voices are rarely heard at international negotiations. When they are heard, they are generally greeted with platitudes, but they have yet to exact a lasting impact.

In 1992, 12 year-old Severn Cullis-Suzuki gave an inspirational speech to the global decision-makers meeting at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. In the ensuing years, it has been discomforting and disappointing to see that the global average temperature has continued to climb as have carbon emissions, currently putting us on track for another 4°C of warming by 2100.

To give children a louder voice and hopefully be a catalyst for change, I’ve been working as a part of the UNICEF Climate and Environment Team this summer. After reviewing the annual reports that more than 130 country offices have submitted from 2010-2013, I created a comprehensive and detailed database. From this database, UNICEF can build bridges of communication amongst country offices, enabling them to improve their programs collaboratively.

Through collaborating with other divisions, such as the Innovation Unit, I’m also working with UNICEF staff to provide country offices with more focused guidance and technical support. We are also addressing case studies, through which we not only advocate internal experience exchanges, but also enhance further and deeper communications between organizations and individuals outside the system.

This internship has helped me think not just about technical aspects of climate change, but also about its impacts and how we can respond from a more practical perspective. On September 23 of this year, the United Nations is holding a Climate Summit here in New York. One of the thematic sessions during the summit is “Voices from the Frontline,” which is organized by UNICEF in partnership with UN Women.

I’m excited to support the session about how to address the environmental needs of youth, women and indigenous people, all of whom can sometimes be lost from the broader climate discussion.

In addition, as a part of UN system, UNICEF is actively seeking possibilities for cooperation with other UN agencies during this year’s annual international climate negotiations this December. I’ve learned about the technical work done by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which put out a landmark climate report this year written in part to inform negotiations. But learning how to make the case for a better recognition and inclusion of children in the global discourse on climate change and environment is a whole other issue, and one I’m excited to be working toward.



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