“We have a complete picture of where and how children are vulnerable to climate change, and that picture is almost unimaginably dire.”
A staggering one billion children across the world are at ‘extreme’ risk from the impacts of climate change, a new UN report has revealed.
UNICEF experts in their report The Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI) state that young people in 33 countries are vulnerable to threats to their health, education, and exposure to disease as a direct result of the climate crisis.
Children in the Central African Republic, Chad, Nigeria, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau have been identified as being at the most risk.
Worryingly, the one billion figure cited in the report is nearly half of the world’s current child population of 2.2 billion.
The report is the first comprehensive child-focused climate risk index and ranks countries based on children’s exposure to climate shocks, such as cyclones and heatwaves, as well as their vulnerability to those stressors, based on their access to essential services.
CCRI reveals that these children are facing a “deadly combination of exposure to multiple climate shocks…[and] inadequate essential services, such as water and sanitation, healthcare and education.”
Moreover, the index points out that 1 in 3 children- an estimated 850 million worldwide – live in regions facing at least four overlapping ‘environmental shocks’.
Overlapping shocks include coastal flooding, cyclones, vector-borne diseases, heatwaves, and water scarcity among other natural disasters.
Another finding shows that a billion are “highly exposed” to “exceedingly high levels of air pollution.”
UNICEF’s Executive Director, Henriette Fore, said: “For the first time, we have a complete picture of where and how children are vulnerable to climate change, and that picture is almost unimaginably dire.
“Climate and environmental shocks are undermining the complete spectrum of children’s rights, from access to clean air, food and safe water; to education, housing, freedom from exploitation, and even their right to survive. Virtually no child’s life will be unaffected.”
‘Climate change is deeply inequitable’
Worst still, the report highlights that children of regions responsible for just 9% of the world’s carbon footprint are facing the ‘most significant’ impacts of climate change. In comparison, only one out of the 10 highest-emitting countries accounting for 70% of global emissions feature in the “extremely high risk” countries in the index.
“Climate change is deeply inequitable. While no child is responsible for rising global temperatures, they will pay the highest costs,” Fore added.
“The children from countries least responsible will suffer most of all.”
The analysis follows the ‘devastating’ IPCC report that highlights how human-induced climate change has caused ‘unprecedented’ and ‘irreversible’ damage to the environment.
Based on these findings, UNICEF experts conclude that the number of children facing climate risk is “likely to get worse as the impacts of climate change accelerate.”
They call on officials to take concrete measures to improve children’s defence against climate shocks by introducing environmental resilience and sustainability policies. They also stress the need to rapidly limit global GHG emissions in line with the Paris agreement, and educate children and empower them ‘to be recognized and listened to as agents of change’.
‘Treat climate change like the crisis it is’
In the report’s foreword, Thunberg – who mobilized the Fridays for Future movement – and three other youth climate activists, wrote: “Children bear the greatest burden of climate change. Not only are they more vulnerable than adults to the extreme weather, toxic hazards and diseases it causes, but the planet is becoming a more dangerous place to live.
“Our futures are being destroyed, our rights violated, and our pleas ignored.
“This report comes ahead of the November 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.
“There is still time for countries to commit to preventing the worst, including setting the appropriate carbon budgets to meet Paris targets, and ultimately taking the drastic action required to shift the economy away from fossil fuels.
“We must acknowledge where we stand, treat climate change like the crisis it is and act with the urgency required to ensure today’s children inherit a liveable planet.”
- Read: Demonstrators block busy junction in central London to kick off protests ‘targeting root cause
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