Climate Change

Children face life with more heatwaves, floods, droughts and wildfires than their grandparents

THERE IS NO PLANTE B. Global climate change strike - No Planet B - Global Climate Strike 09-20-2019

“We must change drastically and start taking the climate crisis seriously". Image: Unsplash/Markus Spiske

Inger Ashing
Chief Executive Officer, Save the Children International
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Climate Change

This article is part of: Forum COP26 Live
  • The climate crisis is a child-rights crisis.
  • The adverse weather events caused by a warming planet affect children first and worst.
  • Children born in 2020 will be harder hit by the climate crisis in their lifetime than their grandparents.

The climate crisis is fundamentally and irreparably reshaping our world. It is a child-rights crisis, affecting children first and worst with deepening inequalities across borders and generations.

Children across the world have inherited a problem that is not of their making. In a new report from Save the Children - Born into The Climate Crisis: Why we must act now to secure children’s rights - we highlight the impact that the climate crisis is having on children’s rights now, and for future generations.


What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

How the climate crisis impacts children

According to new research in the report, which was developed with an international team of leading climate researchers led by the Vrije Universiteit Brussels (VUB), children born in 2020 will be far harder and more often hit by the climate crisis in their lifetime than their grandparents.

With reference to the Paris Agreement’s emission reduction pledges, the new data shows that a child born in 2020 will experience on average twice as many wildfires; 2.8 times the exposure to crop failures; 2.6 times as many drought events; 2.8 times as many river floods; and 6.8 times more heatwaves across their lifetime compared to a person born in 1960.

Children in low- and middle-income countries – who have done the least to contribute to climate change – will continue to bear the heaviest burden of these dangerous climate crisis impacts. For the most vulnerable children – including those exposed to multiple hazards, those living through conflict, those most profoundly impacted by COVID-19, and those experiencing inequality and discrimination – the impacts of climate change will be made worse, placing their access to rights and basic services at additional risk.

There’s still time to turn things around, but we must act now.

Have you read?
Potential reduction of additional lifetime exposure to extreme events of children born in 2020 by limiting warming to 1.5°C instead of higher temperatures under Paris Agreement pledges. Image: Save the Children

Keeping global temperatures low

According to the same data, if global warming is limited to 1.5°c above pre-industrial levels, the risk of additional lifetime exposure for children born in 2020 will drop by 45% for heatwaves; 39% for drought by; 38% for river floods; 28% for crop failures; and 10% for wildfires.

Lowering the risk of exposure to extreme weather events will have a critical impact on children’s access to basic services. More children will be able to remain in school, increases in malnutrition rates will be avoided, and ultimately, the lives and futures of many of the world’s most vulnerable children will be saved.

High-income countries that are the most responsible for climate change have a critical leadership role to play. Investing $1.8 trillion globally in five key areas of adaptation over a period of ten years could generate $7.1 trillion in total net benefits.

Factor children into planning

Investing in children is also economically sound because they will grow up with the knowledge of how to address the root causes of the climate crisis and adapt to its impacts. Children are telling us repeatedly how the climate crisis is impacting them, how urgent is it for us to act, and how they want to be involved in finding solutions.

“Climate change is a huge crisis… the education of children in the affected areas gets disrupted.”

Dilmani, a 15-year-old girl from Sri Lanka

Despite the direct and disproportionate threat that children face to their rights now and in the future, and the leadership they are providing in the climate movement, children are routinely excluded and overlooked in climate discussions, policies, and summits at all levels.

Moving forward, we all need to ensure that children are heard, including at global summits, such as the upcoming Conference of the Parties (COP26) climate conference in Glasgow, UK.

The window of opportunity to make a difference for children is quickly closing. Commitments to climate action and financing remain dangerously inadequate, and unless global leaders scale up their ambition now, current, and future generations of children will suffer.

“We must change drastically and start taking the climate crisis seriously, we must act now to have a chance of reaching our goals and save the future. We children are maybe not climate-scientists, but we know something important. We must act now!”

Emanuel, a 14-year-old boy from Norway

It is critical that governments speed up commitments to the next five-year cycle of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming. They must also provide child-sensitive climate financing, plus social protection and support for children and their communities so that they can better adapt to and recover from climate shocks.

Alongside governments, the private sector has a crucial role to play in leading the just transition to sustainable carbon-neutral economies that safeguard our planet and the future of children. This includes divesting from fossil fuels and creating greener jobs.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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