OPINION: In the face of the climate and health crises, how can we keep our children safe?

Friday, 9 April 2021 15:26 GMT

A father and his child hold a sign as climate activists protest outside the Shell building in London, Britain, September 8, 2020. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

If we seize the moment and work together - boomers and millennials - there are very real chances for a future world that is better than the one today's adults were born into

Sitting in quarantine with my wife and toddler daughter in February, I realised we had failed. As much as we tried to protect our daughter while leading as normal a life as possible, after getting our positive test results, I had to admit we were unable to shield her from the coronavirus.

And crucially, it’s doubtful that we alone will be able to safeguard her from the ravages of a climate breakdown.

There is no panacea for the climate crisis, but solidarity - and certainly inter-generational solidarity - is the secret ingredient.

Locked down at home in Poland for days on end, we went through our share of this global pandemic. We made it through a full year of COVID infecting over 100 million people around the world, including some of our friends, colleagues and an uncle who succumbed to this horrendous virus, until it closed in on us.

But it’s not just about going through this together as a family. No family can fend off the climate crisis. Surely, some – say, fossil fuel executives and their relatives - are and will be better off than most of us, but at the end of the day it’s about entire age cohorts standing shoulder to shoulder with each other.

2020 was the joint hottest year on record - on a par with 2016 - but my daughter and her generation will be growing up through progressively warmer years.

While our daughter endured 2020, which turned out to be a toxic brew of global crises, many other girls and boys were faced with the pandemic and climate-linked disasters in tandem - be it those exposed to poisonous smoke from the wildfires that raged along the U.S. West Coast, or the more than 20,000 children in the parts of Vanuatu hardest hit by Cyclone Harold in April.

Crucially, these kids had no role in creating the climate crisis. It is earlier generations, particularly in the Global North, who let greenhouse gas emissions run amok even after evidence pointing to the role of the fossil fuel industry was unequivocal. 

In countless ways, the climate crisis is a manifestation of inter-generational injustice.

The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the basis for the international community’s coordinated efforts to stem the climate crisis, even stipulates that governments “should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind”.

Yet, in the almost 30 years since this treaty to curb global emissions was drafted, the world has actually emitted more carbon dioxide than in the preceding 240 years. This is how adults truly and colossally have failed our children and grandchildren.

But there’s also a momentous opportunity to reshape the world our children will inherit. The health and economic shocks our societies have sustained from the pandemic have already prompted governments to take dramatic measures.

The implications of the decisions taken today - in particular on the different recovery plans being drawn up - will last for decades. Government investments in social services and public infrastructure, as part of the effort to heal economies, will shape societies for years to come.

But we have to make sure these plans benefit all citizens of the future, not just the privileged one percent of the present. They need to include improved public transport, not more highways and intersections; wind and solar power, and not more fossil-fuel power plants; modern public healthcare; and solid protection of nature and the ecological systems that enable life on this planet.

If we seize the moment and work together - boomers and millennials - there are very real chances for a future world that is better than the one today’s adults were born into.

We will need to support those exemplary youth holding governments to account. We will have to ensure our own pension funds are no longer invested in the fossil fuel industry. And we will need to mobilize to put our societies on track for the reality both children and adults deserve. All of this has already started to happen.

Sooner or later, the pandemic will be history, but climate change is here to stay. And I want my daughter - and all kids - to know that we parents, who understand what the climate crisis means, have their backs.