In the context of climate change, we’re fighting for future generations. The fight against climate change is a convergence of  social, environmental and economic struggles. The fight for children and future generations must take centre stage.

“Nothing is more important than building a world in which all our children have the opportunity to realise their full potential and grow up in health, peace and dignity.” Kofi A. Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations

Our mission: act now for future generations and leave them a liveable planet

The climate crisis is having an impact on children’s mental health and well-being. The UK’s leading paediatrician calls it an “existential risk”.

We have a duty to promote their development, their health and their peace of mind. Furthermore, we have a responsibility to hand over a liveable, sustainable world to future generations. Children and future generations – those that are not yet born – are innocent. They bear no responsibility for the dire ecological health of the planet, yet they offer us hope. They can be the common goal that will unite us in the fight against climate change.

Imagine a game of chess, in which each piece represents different segments of a society. The main piece, the king, represents youth. A king can move in any direction, like a child driven by curiosity and a thirst for discovery. A king can only take one step forward, like a child with little impact or power. When the king gives up, it’s game over. It is our role, as the pawns, the bishops and queens, to protect the king. 

Our political system is not designed to prioritise children’s development. Children have no voice in politics. They can’t vote until they reach the age of majority. Politicians have little interest in appealing to this non-voting age group. Consequently, adults must speak up for children in their votes and political battles. 

Adults in politics can learn a lot from children. When Greta Thunberg first became well-known, she was very young, and felt that she had no option but to speak up for climate justice because the politicians weren’t speaking out.

What kind of world do we want our children to live in? This vision needs to be co-constructed with children. It’s about making laws with a long-term perspective. Children need adults to act, not react. Reforming the way we do politics is essential if we are to develop a real vision of the future for our children.

Nurturing resilient children for a greener tomorrow 

Public health issues need to take greater account of young people. The journal of Paediatric Child Health shows that poor lifestyle habits in childhood, such as poor diet and physical inactivity, contribute strongly to increased morbidity and mortality from chronic disease in adulthood.

Adult teeth are formed during childhood, so a diet low in essential nutrients such as calcium can lead to brittle teeth in adulthood. Children’s cognitive and lung development is seriously affected by poor air quality. Political attention to this issue, including the development of green spaces or ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone), would be a boon for children.

The child’s mental health also has an influence on the adult. According to the World Health Organization, up to 50% of adult mental health disorders appear in adolescence. A major problem is that around 75% of children and adolescents with mental health disorders do not receive appropriate intervention at the right time (Mental Health Foundation).

The over-use of social networks and screens among children is another cause for concern. Their brains are taken hostage, and their self-esteem tested. Screen consumption is a public health issue for young people. 

Children are shaped by their environment. Our values as adults are often inherited from our upbringing. A child who grows up surrounded by love, sharing and solidarity is more likely to give them back. Similarly, a child growing up in a violent environment is more likely to be violent as an adult. As a Welsh study shows, more than eight out of ten men in prison suffered adversities such as abuse, neglect or domestic violence as children. They are unfortunate victims before being perpetrators. 

Education is a key factor to an individual’s development, as it is in childhood that the character is most moldable. Sadly, many dictatorships and tyrannical movements have understood this and indoctrinate new generations from an early age, as in the case of the Hitler Youth or the terrorist militias in Uganda who kidnap children to turn them into soldiers. 

However, this period of a child’s life is not only open to nefarious actors to exploit. It is an opportunity to instil a healthy relationship with others and with nature. This is what scouting is all about. Scouting gives children a privileged, caring relationship with nature, while developing strong values such as mutual aid, solidarity and living together. 

Preparing children for tomorrow’s world

Changing lifestyles and the ecological transition will bring changes to the job market. According to the World Economic Forum in 2023, a quarter of all jobs are set to change over the next five years. It’s time to adapt young people’s training to the future world we want to live in.

It’s also a question of creating imaginative ways of re-imagining consumption patterns. Are young people more motivated than their elders to take action on climate change? Surprisingly, studies show that even young people are not ready to question their lifestyle. For example, young people (aged 18-24) are not eating less meat.

When it comes to the frequency of air travel, a French study shows that young people are less “virtuous” than the rest of the population, flying more than most. 

It’s a question of rebuilding the notion of happiness for children and young generations, and decoupling it from the over-consumption of meat, screens, long-distance air travel, and reconnecting with nature.

Childhood in today’s world: a mixed picture

In 1989, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was adopted, with signatories pledging to guarantee the protection, survival and development of all children without prejudice or discrimination. Unfortunately, more than 30 years later, violations continue unabated.

However, there are some encouraging indicators. Global child immunisation always increased until the Covid crisis. Yet, 80% of the world’s one-year-old children have been vaccinated against some disease. Girls’ school enrolment is also on the rise. Worldwide, 30-year-old men have spent 10 years in school, on average women of the same age spent 9 years in school. Some countries promote a better environment for children to grow up in. In 2014, Sweden rewrote its national legislation to put children’s rights front and centre. 

In praise of childhood

Cradles of joy, curiosity and energy, children are the future. Their ability to dream, their creative potential and their lack of judgement are a gift to humanity. As we recreate the imaginations of tomorrow’s world, let us be enchanted by the gentle madness of children. Let’s create a world in which they can keep smiling and spreading the joie de vivre we so desperately need. We owe it to them and to future generations.