As children strike around the world, Oxfam calls for climate action

Our children are walking out of school today, saying we have failed them. At Oxfam, we support them. This is the kind of clarity and energy we need now from the UN.

Oxfam’s Winnie Byanyima told leaders at the UN this week that global inequality and climate break-down are twin interrelated crises of a world being “torn apart by the engine of our own political economy”.

We have failed our children

In her speech she evoked the words of Greta Thunberg, who yesterday was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and today is leading another strike by school children around the world, protesting against climate change and our pitiful weakness to resolve it.

Winnie urged leaders to listen and act on Greta's activism: “Our children are walking out of school saying we have failed them.”

Winnie implored the UN to show the same clarity of purpose and energy exemplified by the 16-year-old Swede.

Education is a public right

Something is wrong for any child to have to miss out on school. Truancy can often be a scary indicator that a child might be going down the wrong path.

Education is a public right and Oxfam fights hard for its universal access to all children.

It is the key to personal growth and opportunity and the foundation of how nations can tackle poverty and inequality and transform their societies for good.

Yes, we abhor kids being out of school. But climate change means that one day many may not even have a school to attend.

Speak up about climate change

Anyone whose very existence is under threat should at least have the right to speak up about it. The right to protest, to mobilize and organize, to raise one’s voice and have it heard, is no less a right that it should be denied.

It is a right that is regardless of age – as it should be regardless of gender, race, religion, ethnicity or any other reason that may be used to discriminate.

Young people are using their education in the realization that going to school and getting an education might not amount to much if their prospects are now shrouded in such doubt and jeopardy. To our children, climate change is not an abstract idea but a frightening, threatening reality.

A new economic model

Our children are seeing their leaders failing to tame our economy’s addiction to coal, oil and gas, driving our planet toward and over 1.5 degrees warming. We place economic growth on a pedestal and disregard its harmful consequences on people.

So what if the factory that employs people in the village also emits pollution that creates health hazards and climate change? Or if the much-hyped oil plant also taints people’s drinking water and spews out greenhouse gases?

Nearly half of the world’s population lives on under $5.50 a day, the World Bank’s new poverty line for extreme poverty in upper and middle income countries. If we continue to tinker around the edges of our current system, we will need a global economy 175 times bigger for everyone to achieve life above the extreme poverty line. This would destroy our planet – so it is self-evident that the structure of our economic model must change.

Hiding our heads in the sand?

We are the proverbial ostriches with our heads in the sand, refusing to acknowledge that our system of pursuing development has not only given rise to huge inequality between the 1% super-rich and the rest – but it’s also been destroying our planet.

We need to transform our economic system so that it redistributes income and wealth more fairly, and is powered in a greener, cleaner, more sustainable way. This economic transformation is entirely achievable and within our hands; we need a “New Green Deal” that both redistributes wealth and allows us a more sure and sustainable way to steward our planet.

We need to muster the courage, wisdom and humility to do better by these young people.

The climate school strike is on its own remarkable, what is even more phenomenal is the fact that a young woman, Greta, is the inspiration behind it.

What legacy will we leave?

Greta’s emergence as a powerful voice to end climate change is proof that women and girls all over the world - invited or not - are starting to assert their place in spaces that for too long have been dominated by men.

Even as we acknowledge the rights and courage of the children joining the global school strike, we must realize that there are children in many corners of the world who will not have the opportunity to participate. Most of these children come from come from the poorest parts of the world that contribute little to climate change but are most affected by it.

We must work towards a world where children, women and other marginalized people everywhere are enlightened and empowered enough to speak up against the issues that affect them.

We will be judged both by the environmental legacy we leave our children and how much we have prepared them to speak truth to power and take on the emerging challenges of a complex world.

This entry posted on 15 March 2019, by Rashmi Mistry, Head of Oxfam’s Climate Justice campaign.

Top photo: from today's #climatestrike march in Australia, via Oxfam Australia

Share this page: