The impact of climate change is universal, but it is not equal. It gravely affects children. In the face of climate emergencies, they are at severe risk of rising hunger and displacement, disruption to education and limited access to basic health and sanitation.

Nowhere is this more evident than in East Africa, where record-breaking droughts and hunger have devastated millions. Such extreme weather events wouldn’t happen in a world without climate change.

Drought forced Dawele*, 14, from Ethiopia, to drop out of school.

“There is no rain in our community. We walk for more than eight hours every day to get water,” she explains. “Because of this, I couldn’t attend class and was forced to drop out. I love mathematics and want to be a teacher, but now I don’t know what my future will be.”

Dawele is one of 15 million children in the Horn of Africa, a sub-region of East Africa, who are now out of school. An additional estimated 3.3 million children are at risk of dropping out due to drought.

World leaders and decision-makers must understand the climate crisis is much more than an environmental challenge — it poses a formidable threat to the rights and well-being of children, particularly girls. But that is not happening, according to a new report on global climate funding.

The Children's Environmental Rights Initiative (CERI) coalition — comprised of leading child rights organizations Plan International, Save the Children and UNICEF — has brought to light that a mere 2.4 per cent of global climate funds can be classified as supporting child-responsive activities. This means that commitments are egregiously failing our youngest when it comes to upholding the rights of children on a burning planet.

Child-responsive activities can include financing action-oriented climate education that equips children with the skills required for green jobs, adaptive life skills to cope with the stresses of climate change and eco-anxiety, and advocacy skills to transform unjust social and economic structures that contribute to climate change. Imagine the possibilities for Dawele if she gets to stay in school and learns more about the changing climate and how to cope with it.

Empowering children as agents of change and facilitating their meaningful involvement in decision-making processes related to climate policies, action and finance are equally important. The right of children to have their views considered in decisions that affect their lives is recognized by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In this case, their lives are affected and at stake.

World leaders and decision-makers must understand the climate crisis is more than an environmental challenge — it poses a formidable threat to the rights and well-being of children, particularly girls, writes @AnjumSultana @PlanCanada #CdnPoli

In December 2022, the UN reported over 20 million children were under threat of severe hunger, thirst and disease in the Horn of Africa. This number doubled in just five months, from 10 million in July 2022. With mounting evidence of increased risk of hunger, diseases, eco-anxiety and disruptions to essential services such as health care and clean drinking water, the urgency to act is abundantly clear.

The issue boils down to this: Children will experience the intensifying effects of the climate crisis over the course of their lifetime. Climate interventions can’t leave them out of decisions about their own futures.

Climate financing institutions must acknowledge their pivotal role in setting the agenda, catalyzing investments and co-ordinating efforts with other public and private finance entities. Children cannot be relegated to the status of passive victims; their needs, perspectives and active involvement must be placed at the heart of the decision-making processes. As we redirect funding to cover the losses and damage wrought by climate change, a resolute focus on safeguarding the well-being of children and fortifying the critical social services that support them is needed.

“Children bring hope and solutions. But our nature also makes us more vulnerable to climate change, and children from countries that have contributed the least are often the first casualties. Some countries, like mine, are already on the front line,” says 13-year-old Maria* from Barbados.

Her words resonate deeply. We bear a responsibility to rectify the inadequacies in current climate-financing mechanisms. Our children's and the planet's future hinges on this critical mission.

*Full names have been redacted to protect people's identities.

Anjum Sultana is the director of youth leadership and policy advocacy at Plan International Canada, a member of a global coalition dedicated to advancing children’s rights and equality for girls.