UNICEF Report Finds One Billion Children at Extreme Risk of Climate Impacts

One Billion Children at Extreme Risk of Climate Impacts

A first-of-its-kind study from UNICEF has found that nearly half of the world's 2.2 billion children are at "extremely high risk" from the impacts of climate change, including "heatwaves, floods, cyclones, disease, drought, and air pollution." The report calls for the inclusion of young people at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow this November and for young people to be "recognized as the rightful heirs of this planet."

Why This Matters

According to the report, one billion children in 33 countries -- including in India, Nigeria, the Philippines, and much of sub-Saharan Africa -- are at risk of experiencing three or four significant impacts of climate change simultaneously. Here in the western US, children have been exposed to extended heatwaves, water shortages, and wildfire smoke -- all within one summer.

"Children are uniquely vulnerable to climate hazards," said UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore. "Compared to adults, children require more food and water per unit of body weight and are less able to survive extreme weather events." The decisions made in the upcoming climate conference will determine not only the future of the environment, but the fate of the world's children -- and despite their activism, they have yet to be fully included in official climate talks.

Maps of Vulnerability

The report combined high-resolution maps of climate and environmental impacts, and vulnerabilities like poverty, and limited access to clean water, healthcare, and education." It essentially [shows] the likelihood of a child's ability to survive climate change," said Nick Rees, a co-author of the report. The report found that nearly 50% of the world's children are at "extremely high risk" due to the impacts of climate change, and that these risk levels are highly inequitable. "The top 10 countries that are at extremely high risk are only responsible for 0.5% of global emissions," said Rees.

The report found that 920 million children experience water scarcity and 820 million experience heatwaves. It also found that 600 million children are at risk of vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue fever, both of which are expected to worsen as global temperatures rise. Based on current projections, climate change will significantly expand the mosquito's habitat, exposing one billion more people to vector-borne diseases before 2100.

"For the first time, [this report gives] a complete picture of where and how children are vulnerable to climate change, and that picture is almost unimaginably dire," said Fore. "Virtually no child's life will be unaffected."

The report, released on the anniversary of Greta Thunberg's first school strike, calls on the COP26 conference in Glasgow in November to include young people. "One of the reasons I'm a climate activist is because I was born into climate change, like so many of us have been," said Mitzi Jonelle Tan, a youth campaigner from the Philippines. "[Cop26] has to be the one that changes something because we've gone for so long having these conferences only coming up with empty promises and vague plans."

Now This: 3 Years After Greta Thunberg's First 'School Strike for Climate', August 21, 2021.

Sky News: Mitzi Jonelle Tan grew up seeing climate change first hand, April 23, 2021.

WW0: All Roads Lead to Glasgow, April 28, 2021.