The Intergenerational Inequality of Climate Change

The Intergenerational Inequality of Climate Change

Without action to rein in global emissions and warming, the average 6-year-old will live through significantly more climate disasters than their grandparents, according to a new study. The paper in Science on intergenerational inequities found that with 3 degrees Celsius of temperature rise, as compared to someone living in pre-industrial times, a kindergartener in 2020 will experience:

  • twice as many wildfires and tropical cyclones
  • four times as many crop failures
  • five times as many droughts
  • 36 times the number of heat waves

The study looked only at frequency, not intensity. And like many impacts of the climate crisis, the generational increase in disasters is most stark in countries that have produced fewer emissions. For example, infants in Sub-Saharan Africa may live through 50 times more heat waves than their family members born in pre-industrial times.

Why This Matters

This study drives home the increasing number of disasters expected as a result of climate change -- and emphasizes the need to act immediately to rein in emissions. Right now, greenhouse gas emissions are on track to increase by 16% instead of ramping down as needed. This reality tracks with another recent first-of-its-kind study that found over half of young people are very worried about climate change and feel betrayed by lack of action by their governments.

"We can still avoid the worst consequences," lead author Wim Thiery told the Washington Post. "That is what gives me strength as a father … Their future is in our hands."

Studies Could Bolster Youth Legal Cases

Young people across the world have taken their countries to court over their failure to address the climate crisis. In some cases, they have already won -- German youth activists won a rewrite of the country's emissions laws after arguing they were too vague. Research like this on intergenerational inequities can help make the case and strengthen arguments in court for harms caused by governments and corporations.

"Now that we can really quantify how a child in their lifetime will see so many more of these extreme events … it helps make the case," Yolande Wright, the Global Director for Poverty Reduction, Climate Resilience, Gender Equality and Inclusion at Save the Children International told the Washington Post.

BBC News: How climate change is making inequality worse - BBC News, September 27, 2021.

NowThis News: 3 Years after Greta Thurnberg's First 'School Strike for Climate', August 20, 2021.