The world has been hit by not one but two pandemics: the COVID-19 pandemic and the mental health pandemic.

 As COP26 reaches the end of two weeks of negotiations, the climate anxiety of the younger generation is visibly growing.

 In September, the Lancet published a study by the University of Bath of 10,000 children and young people (aged 16-25) in 10 different countries. Almost one in two (45%) said that climate anxiety and distress is affecting their daily lives. Three-quarters (75%) of those surveyed believe “the future is frightening: rising to 81% in Portugal and 92% in the Philippines.

 Another finding was that the climate distress and anxiety is significantly related to perceived government inaction and associated feelings of betrayal. Nearly six in 10 (58%) of those children and young people surveyed said governments were “betraying me and/or future generations”, while almost two-thirds (64%) said their governments are not doing enough to avoid a climate catastrophe. 

Although, we have a long way to go before the COVID-19 pandemic is under control – we have a much bigger task ahead of us if our children’s mental health is as affected as the University of Bath survey suggests.

 Greta Thunberg seems to have more listening and acting than many of those negotiating at COP26. At a protest last week in Glasgow, she told the crowd in the street: “It is not a secret that COP26 is a failure. It should be obvious that we cannot solve the crisis with the same methods that got us into it in the first place.”

 However, former US President Barack Obama echoed this anger in his speech to COP26. “To all the young people out there – I want you to stay angry. I want you to stay frustrated,” he said. “But channel that anger. Harness that frustration. Keep pushing harder and harder for more and more. Because that’s what’s required to meet that challenge. Gird yourself for a marathon, not a sprint.”

 I have not yet seen the end results of COP26 and can therefore not judge the outcome – but I do find it frightening to know that our children, as Paul Polman wrote in a tweet, are suffering from climate anxiety. 

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I have been at many COPs. Looking back at my notes and previous GreenBiz articles over the past 12 years the frustration and anxiety has been growing. Back in 2012, Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, the keynote speaker from IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) observed we face a mix of mitigation, adaptation and suffering in the future. “You will get all,” he said. “But the choices you take today will determine how much you and your grandchildren will suffer.”

We are all in this together; our actions in every corner of the globe will have an impact on the future of our children and grandchildren. I still hope and believe we can turn this around. So connect with your children today, tell them you do care about our planet’s future and ask what you can do to help.

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