How children’s shoes at COP28 UAE are sending a strong message

Each pair of shoes, as per the climate activists, has a story to tell


Angel Tesorero

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Photos: Angel Tesorero/Khaleej Times
Photos: Angel Tesorero/Khaleej Times

Published: Wed 6 Dec 2023, 8:39 AM

Last updated: Wed 6 Dec 2023, 9:58 PM

Several pairs of children’s shoes are being prominently displayed on the ground at the ongoing COP28 in Dubai. Civil society organisations have put them out as a form of silent protest with a clear message that says 'No climate justice without human rights'.

One of the issues climate activists want to highlight at the UN Climate Summit is the fact that around 6,000 of the more than 15,000 people who died in Gaza, due to continuous Israeli bombings, were children.

“We wanted Palestinian children to be wearing those shoes, and yet they were killed,” Shirine Jurdi, from Lebanon’s Women’s Environment and Development Organisation, told Khaleej Times.

“The shoes displayed are not the actual ones worn by the Palestinian children”, she added, noting: “The actual ones would have been burned or mutilated, along with the bodies of the young victims.”

Photo: Neeraj Murali/Khaleej Times
Photo: Neeraj Murali/Khaleej Times

Each pair of shoes, in the point of view of the climate activists, has a story to tell. For Palestinian teenager, Mohammed, they remind him of his cousin, Hamza, who died a couple of days after his parents were killed in an air strike on one of the highly-populated areas in southern Gaza.

“My cousin died of blood poisoning due to poor facilities. This happened after doctors were forced to operate on him without anaesthesia,” Mohammed said.

Salma from Kenya said she is also not only raising climate concerns at COP28. “We simply cannot talk about climate justice when people in Palestine, especially the children, are constantly in danger,” she underscored.

'No to war'

Jennifer del Rosario-Malonzo, executive director at Ibon International, a service institution working with social movements and civil society organisations, noted “militarism, wars and occupation contribute immensely to global carbon emissions.”

“That is why climate justice is linked with the struggle for just peace and upholding of human rights. Developed countries are miserly in committing to climate action, but pour billions of dollars into wars and military aggression,” she continued.

Photo: Neeraj Murali/Khaleej Times
Photo: Neeraj Murali/Khaleej Times

Malonzo underscored: “As we confront big polluting governments and corporations here at COP28, we also raise critical issues that are deeply connected to our struggle for climate justice – such as the sharp contrast between the billions of dollars being poured by wealthy countries to fund Israel attacks on Gaza, against the pennies earmarked for reparations to frontline communities and climate-related loss and damage. It shows how human rights and lives are sacrificed for profit and plunder.”

Another message the display of shoes wants to deliver is that children are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change such as extreme weather, unabated pollution, and emergence of novel deadly diseases.

Protect children

According to Unicef (UN Children's Fund), “the climate crisis is not just changing the planet – it is changing children – and the world is not doing nearly enough to protect them.”

“Children have been either ignored or largely disregarded in the response to climate change. Only 2.4 per cent of climate finance from key multilateral climate funds support projects incorporating child-responsive activities,” the UN body added.

Last year, 739 million children were exposed to high or extremely high water scarcity, while 436 million children lived in areas of high or extremely high water vulnerability.

More than 40 million children are having their education disrupted every year because of disasters exacerbated by climate change. Child malnutrition is also worsening due to worsening agricultural production, exacerbated by rising temperatures.

Perspective of youth

The call by Unicef is to put children at the centre of the global environmental response. This is echoed by 16-year old Mariam Hassan Al-Ghafri, who is a member of the UAE Parliament for Children and chairperson of the Standing Committee for Environment and Sustainability in Parliament, and Unicef Ambassador for COP28 for Adolescents.

When asked about the shoes on display at COP28, she told Khaleej Times: “It is sad and depressing. But now, at the UN Climate Summit, there is a golden opportunity for our decision makers to take action and change the course of our history.”

“But they must work hard together and take it seriously that when they negotiate for climate action, they must include the perspective of the youth. And only then we will be able to stop this climate disaster,” she underscored.


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