By Megan Rowling
MADRID, Dec 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Parents from nearly 30 countries on Thursday urged negotiators at a United Nations summit in Madrid to act swiftly to curb climate change for the sake of their children, who they said were being harmed by worsening pollution and disasters.
More than 200 activist groups for parents — hailing from Europe to Asia, Africa, and the Americas — signed a "plea," emphasizing the Dec. 2-13 conference was a "crucial opportunity" to push to limit global warming to a lower target of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
As parents, they said it was "agonizing" to see their children "being handed a broken world on the verge of climate chaos and ecological breakdown."
Under the 2015 Paris agreement, governments agreed to keep global temperature rise to "well below" 2 degrees and ideally to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial times.
But national commitments to cut planet-warming emissions so far put the world on track for a "catastrophic" 3-4 degree temperature increase, the plea's signatories noted.
"With every passing minute of political inaction, the climate crisis deepens, risking the lives, health, and future of more children," their statement said.
Children were having to live through climate-related disasters, from tropical storms in Africa and Asia to flooding and mudslides in parts of Europe and Brazil, and wildfires made worse by drought in California and Australia, it added.
"We are at a critical junction in time, where every ton of carbon emitted takes us closer to dangerous climate tipping points which could unravel human civilization within our own and our children's lifetimes," the groups warned.
They appealed to parents among the government negotiators in Madrid — representatives of almost 200 countries — to consider their responsibilities to their own offspring.
"These delegates are parents who, due to their professional skills, are capable of being real heroes for all the children of the world," the statement said.
Politicians, UN officials, and others at the talks regularly underscore the need to keep children safe from climate harm and to protect the planet for future generations.
On Monday, Costa Rica's President Carlos Alvarado spoke at an event for leaders of particularly climate-vulnerable countries about his own 6-year-old and the moral imperative to make progress in Madrid.
"If we are not courageous enough during these weeks to take action, we will not only be failing — (for) me, my kid — but we all will be letting down humanity, the generations before us, and the ones to come," he said.
The conference is eagerly awaiting the arrival of Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg, who in August 2018 began skipping school on Fridays to call for climate action outside her country's parliament, inspiring a global movement.
Thunberg arrived in Portugal on Tuesday, stepping off a sailboat after a journey across the Atlantic following a last-minute venue switch for the UN talks from Chile's protest-hit capital Santiago to Madrid.
The key question is whether a swelling chorus of demands from children and young people for politicians to "listen to the science" will translate into concrete steps to stop global warming overshooting the Paris agreement targets.
Jesus Garcia, a representative of Spain's Madres Por El Clima (Mothers for the Climate), a group of parents that raises awareness in schools, said it was "just hypocrisy" if politicians spoke of their children and grandchildren at UN talks and then failed to do what was needed to protect them.
"The future of our children cannot be something to play with," Garcia, a father of two, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
On Friday evening, young people and families plan to turn out for a climate march in Madrid to hike pressure on leaders.
"This is a historic moment, and we need policy makers — especially the parents among them — to act on behalf of our children," said Frida Berry Eklund, a mother of two from Swedish group Föräldravrålet (Parental Roar).
(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)