Global Cooperation

Children are at climate change's sharp edge — we must do more to protect them

A father with his children walk over the cracked soil of a 1.5 hectare dried up fishery at the Novaleta town in Cavite province, south of Manila May 26, 2015. Children are disproportionately impacted by climate change — despite having no part in causing it.

Children are disproportionately impacted by climate change — despite having no part in causing it. Image: REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Blair Palmer
Innovation Specialist, UNICEF
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This article is part of: Annual Meeting of the New Champions
  • Children are disproportionately affected by climate change's worst impacts: droughts, disease and other forms of immediate and long-term harm.
  • As both our future and the innocent victims of past decisions, we must do more to protect children from climate impacts.
  • Collaboration is also key to tackling the connection between climate and health — particularly regarding children's rights and protections.

Climate change poses an imminent challenge in our era, impacting the well-being of generations. Children, in particular, are at risk due to climate-related disasters, health issues and food insecurity. Addressing this crisis to safeguard children's health and promote efforts that drive humanitarian innovation is crucial.

The impact of climate change on children's health is concerning. Children are affected by rising temperatures and environmental degradation leading to increased risks of illnesses, malnutrition and waterborne diseases. Extreme weather like storms and floods — exacerbated by climate change — risk causing immediate harm to children through injury or death. Children in communities in developing countries endure most of these effects of worsening existing inequalities.

According to the World Health Organization estimates, 88% of the burden of climate change-related disease fell on children under five. Taking action now is not just necessary. It is an obligation to protect the most vulnerable members of society.

"Although awareness regarding climate change has grown, the efforts to protect those have been insufficient. Urgent action is required to achieve climate justice."

Dr. Anshu Banerjee, Director of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health and Ageing, World Health Organization

Young individuals are emerging as agents for driving change. Movements led by youth, such as Fridays for Future, are playing a role in raising awareness and prompting political responses. Their voices serve as a call to action for steps to tackle the climate crisis and safeguard their well-being. It is essential to amplify their message and provide support for youth-led initiatives that highlight the connection between climate change and children's welfare.

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Innovating to develop solutions and protect children

To enhance resilience against the effects of climate change, we must invest in innovative solutions that will leverage progress. It is essential to address these challenges by focusing on climate mitigation and adaptation and prioritizing the improvement of healthcare systems, education and social safety nets. This will enhance children’s ability to withstand climate-related threats.

Investing in energy sustainable infrastructure and nature-based solutions will safeguard the health of children amidst the challenges posed by climate change. For example, initiatives like the Green Climate Fund support projects that enhance climate resilience and promote low carbon development in developing nations, particularly focusing on safeguarding communities, including children. By generating employment opportunities in sectors and nurturing growth, we can cultivate a thriving economy that benefits both current and upcoming generations. Further catalyzing these efforts, the latest Economist Impact report shares the latest research on the economic and social case for energy investments in key sectors, and how investments support climate adaptation measures and increase the resilience of children and their communities.

Building out child-centric response mechanisms

As the frequency and severity of crises escalate due to climate variations, it is imperative to enhance our response mechanisms to protect the well-being of children. Investing in early warning systems, disaster readiness and adaptive humanitarian approaches plays a role. This includes strengthening the resilience of critical services for health and education. UNICEF’s Sustainability and Climate Change Action Plan amplifies how organizations strive to create a roadmap to develop policies and measures to bolster resilience and shield children from climate-induced calamities. We can drive fair solutions forward by empowering individuals as catalysts for change and providing platforms to share their insights and innovations. Combining wisdom with enthusiasm can instigate enduring transformations and secure a sustainable future for every child.

Collaboration is also key to tackling the connection between climate and health. Government organizations and communities must pool resources and knowledge to expand initiatives and advancements that prioritize the health of children. An example of this approach is The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, which unites experts from fields to monitor the health effects of climate change and advocate for action. Through partnerships and a cooperative mindset, we can speed up progress towards a better world.

Swift action is imperative

The evidence is undeniable; swift action is imperative. We cannot delay when the well-being of our children is at stake. Every day we hesitate, more children are put in jeopardy. We must put children at the heart of climate action and humanitarian response, recognizing the urgent need to safeguard their health and well-being. By empowering youth, investing in resilient healthcare systems and fostering collaborative action, we can build a sustainable future for generations to come.

Let us act decisively with the understanding that our decisions today will influence the world our children will inherit tomorrow. As climate-related disasters like floods, droughts and heat waves escalate, it is clear that those who are most vulnerable are suffering the most. We need to come with determination, funding and cooperation to protect the health and happiness of our children amidst the challenges posed by climate change. This calls for leadership, creative ideas and a dedication to fairness and equality that reaches beyond boundaries and time.

The fate of our children and our planet hinges on the actions we choose today. It is time to step up to the challenge and build a society where all children can flourish without the shadow of climate change looming over them. Time is running out. The importance of this moment cannot be overstated. The real question is: will we rise to meet this challenge?

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