Our children’s air should be central to discussions at COP27

I live in Delhi, the most polluted capital city in the world. Since they were born, my now grown-up daughters have been breathing toxic air. It breaks my heart and motivates me everyday. And I know that my children are the lucky ones, as our relative privilege means we can make choices that most Indian families cannot. In India and across the world, our children grow up breathing toxic air. A baby born in Delhi effectively has the lungs of a smoker.

As a mother, it was concern for my twin daughters that alerted me to the impact that air pollution was having on my children’s health. As toddlers, they had the typical symptoms of runny noses and coughs all year round. But that disappeared when we left the city and its dirty air.

This led me to read and research more on air pollution – and ultimately to found Warrior Moms, with a fierce collective of mothers from all over India fighting for children’s right to breathe clean air. My daughters are now young adults. Like so many of us, they are still breathing toxic air.

Over 90 percent of children worldwide are breathing dirty air. Studies show that every single organ of the body is affected by air pollution, it’s not only the lungs. Children are especially vulnerable because they tend to spend more time outside and are more active than adults. There’s asthma, other breathing disorders and damage to the nervous and reproductive systems.

Today is the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, which aims to spread awareness of the impact air pollution is having on all of us. The theme this year is “The Air We Share” focusing on the transboundary nature of air pollution, and stressing the need for collective accountability and action. It is also two years since Warrior Moms joined hands determined to bring back clean air for all our children.

I strongly believe that collective action across the globe is fundamental to tackling the pandemic of unclean air. Last year, at COP26, I was part of a delegation of mothers – from Brazil, Nigeria, Poland, South Africa, and the UK – who met with and delivered an open letter to the President of COP26 Alok Sharma. This letter was signed by almost 500 parent groups from 44 countries, representing one of the biggest mobilisation of parents ever. We called on global leaders to end new fossil fuels financing and exploration for the sake of children’s health and their futures.

I believe our children’s rights, health and futures must be central to the next global climate talks – COP27 in Egypt. Our children are being poisoned by toxic pollution from burning fossil fuels with every breath they take. That burning is also the key driver of the climate crisis, which is ruining our children’s futures and destroying our only home. A staggering 7 million people die prematurely each year because of polluted air.

I met the COP 26 President, Alok Sharma, again in June this year with another group of determined mothers – this time from Colombia, Poland, Sweden, and the UK. Dr. Maria Neira, director of public health and environment at the World Health Organization also joined us.

Dr. Maria Neira, highlighted the stakes clearly. She told Sharma: “Governments are spending $5.3 trillion collectively on treating the consequences of air pollution. The combustion of fossil fuels is killing us and filling our hospitals with kids suffering from chronic disease. It’s harming the brain development of our next generation. This is why we have to move to clean energy as quickly as possible.”

We urged Alok Sharma to facilitate dialogue with Egypt’s incoming COP27 Presidency, to help put children’s health, air pollution and the impact of fossil fuels on the agenda at COP27 and other climate summits, and we outlined how this could happen.

We believe children’s right to a clean and healthy environment should be at the centre of COP27 and other climate summits. We must use these summits to talk about the devastating health impacts from the burning of fossil fuels on children’s health and futures – and showcase – and accelerate – the win-win solutions we already have that will clean our children’s air and reduce emissions. For example, protecting and restoring nature, keeping fossil fuels in the ground, and transitioning to life saving clean energy.

I will be continuing the fight for healthy air at COP27 together with other determined mothers, as well as pushing nationally for the changes that are needed. I know that I am not alone. Across the world, other mothers – in Poland, in the UK, in South Africa, in the US – are pushing for clean air. Together, we are a determined and unstoppable force.

If you could save 13 lives a minute worldwide, or three lives a minute in India alone, wouldn’t you want to do that? Fossil fuels are killing our children – and clean energy can save lives. Our children must be central to COP27 and all future climate talks. It’s their present and future at stake – we need to put children first.

Bhavreen Kandhari, Warrior Moms