Global Britain: Becoming a leader for child rights at a time of crisis

I have been working with Unicef UK to compile a collection of essays by leading authors to help inspire a new vision for the role the UK (“Global Britain”) could play in building a better post-pandemic world with children and future generations at its heart. 2021 sees world leaders getting together in a series of important summit meetings. The UK is hosting or co-hosting three of the events in this Year of Summits – the G7 (already completed in Cornwall), The Global Education Summit (coming up on 28th/29th July) and of course COP26 in Glasgow in November. Together with the G20 ((Rome, late October), the Food Systems Summit and UN General Assembly (New York September), and the Nurtition for Growth Summit in Japan in December, these events offer a unique opportunity to decide to do things differently.

The essay collection is available on the Unicef UK website at https://www.unicef.org.uk/globalbritainessays/.

Shorter edited versions are available as a Financial Times Special Report, with some additional content by FT journalists. This version can be found at https://www.ft.com/reports/unicef-delivering-worlds-children.

To quote from the concluding essay:

The essays in this collection demonstrate that despite the many challenges children face there remains an exceptional opportunity confronting the world in 2021. The UK sits in an unusually influential position to lead and inspire transformative change for children everywhere – creating an opportunity to cement the UK’s status as a leading force for good in the world.

Global Britain and child rights

Amidst the many challenges faced since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it could be easy to forget the rich capacity for global solutions we have before us. This affords us a choice – do we revert to business as usual post-pandemic? Or do we act decisively and collectively to build a better, fairer, more equitable and inclusive world for every child?

Our essay collection seeks to inspire a more radical vision of “Global Britain”, with children and future generations at its heart. Despite the reduction in aid from 0.7% of GNI, the UK government retains the capacity to set an ambitious agenda within its forthcoming International Development strategy. One that harnesses the UK’s diplomatic, aid and humanitarian endeavours to uphold the rights of every child, everywhere.

This strategy can bring people of all political perspectives together behind a shared mission and belief; a belief that a truly Global Britain can lead the way to a better world for future generations. After the divisions and debate regarding the UK’s role on the global stage and the suffering of the pandemic, there is surely one thing above all else that can bring us together – our deep care for our children and young people who have faced enormous difficulties in recent years. Those same children who have inspired and challenged us with their strength, resilience, and activism. The challenges they, and their children, will face are problems without borders. We must face them together and that is why a vision for Britain must be truly Global.

An influential position

Throughout the pandemic there has been much talk about “building back better”, but less clarity about what that means for children. How can we create a better world post-pandemic? Where will the decisions be made that determine the shape of that world? The answer is that 2021 presents a unique opportunity to take a stand on behalf of children and leave the world better than we found it. It is a year of opportunities where world leaders and thinkers will be making vital decisions that will shape our children’s future.

If the right choices are made in 2021, the future can be different: more sustainable, fairer, safer, and more hopeful. The UK is hosting three summits and has a key role to play in many others this year. It is a chance for the UK Government to put its considerable diplomatic weight behind a real chance for change, to turn the challenges and suffering of the pandemic into a positive future for every child.

The G7 leaders’ summit ensured that post-pandemic recovery and climate change are central to the 2021 agenda and made initial commitments to vaccinating the world and to a zero-carbon future. However, there is far more to be done to prevent things getting worse, let alone to build a better future.  The authors of our essays show us how much more we can achieve and how much more ambitious we can be.

Download Summary of Conclusion Download as PDF

Conclusion

The Global Education Summit (UK, 28/9 July) will create the possibility to deliver commitment to investing in our young people, rebuilding the education systems that have been hit so hard by the pandemic; embracing an inclusive, connected, digital future; building the skills and aptitudes that the next generation will need to meet the opportunities arising from 21st century technology and to solve the problems that previous generations have given to them.

The Food Systems Summit (New York, September) enables us to envisage a future in which no-one goes hungry despite increasing population and a changing climate. While at Nutrition for Growth, the Japanese Government will build on an initiative started in London to tackle malnutrition. As we witness a dramatic worsening of world hunger as a result of the pandemic there can be no more telling measure of our humanity than whether or not we address the damage caused to the world’s children by malnutrition.

Decisions at COP26 (Glasgow, November) will determine whether the world will tackle the challenge of a changing climate or face the existential threat of environmental destruction. It is a chance to listen to the calls of a generation of children and young people and build forward with justice, equality and sustainability.

The UK Government can use these moments to build renewed global consensus behind children’s rights. By ensuring every decision it makes and every policy it embraces is determined by answering the question “what is best for our children and future generations?” it can put forward an ambitious vision for the future and make lasting change for future generations.

Taken together these 11 essays speak to us all with a powerful and united voice. The authors are telling us that the world now faces a binary choice between reverting to business-as-usual post-pandemic or acting decisively to build a better world.

In the former case, we would continue with deep global inequality, widespread poverty and malnutrition, and worsening damage to the environment on which we all depend. If we choose the latter path, we can tackle climate change, meet the SDGs, eliminate extreme poverty and protect global health.

Today’s children and young people know which path they would choose for themselves and the next generation. If we listen to them, bring their perspectives and ideas to the fore, and decide that the impact on their wellbeing is the true test of all our policies and decisions, we can only choose the right path.

The decision by the UK Government to reduce international aid spending complicates this picture, as this means less resource committed to the world’s children, programmes have been stopped and vital support has been reduced. For every pound cut, children living in some of the world’s worst crises and conflicts could suffer the consequences, with fewer children able to attend school, receive life-saving food and access critical healthcare services. Now is the time to step up and ensure that they do not shoulder this burden and it is critical that the UK Government charts a clear path back to delivering its life-saving aid commitment. As the new International Development strategy is finalised, decisions made now will have a huge bearing on the future for many of the world’s children. That is why the UK Government’s vision for Global Britain must have both child rights and multilateral cooperation at its core.

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