Climate change will disproportionately impact children, particularly in high poverty areas, the UN children’s agency UNICEF warned, in a new report released here.
The report, “Unless We Act Now
,” illustrates the dangers of climate change on livelihoods and urges for action ahead of the upcoming Paris Climate Change Conference
, also known as COP21.
“Today’s children are the least responsible for climate change, but they, and their children, are the ones who will live with its consequences,“ said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “And, as is so often the case, disadvantaged communities face the gravest threat,” he continued.
UNICEF found that more than half a billion children live in extremely high flood occurrence zones, a majority of whom are in countries where half or more of the population lives in poverty.
Another 160 million also live in areas of high or extremely high drought severity.
Climate change will only increase the frequency of droughts, floods, and severe weather events, the report noted. Such extreme weather conditions exacerbate undernutrition and increase the spread of water-related diseases such as malaria and dengue which have lifelong effects on young children.
Meanwhile, access to health services is also reduced during such natural disasters. During the 2010 floods in Pakistan, over 2.8 million children under 5 were affected but 15 percent of clinics and hospitals were damaged and all medicines destroyed, hindering access to health care.
The risks to children go beyond physical health. Climate change threatens the complete loss of livelihoods.
During the 2011 drought in Eastern Africa, the subsequent food crisis forced children to leave school and take dangerous jobs to support families. Families also often split up to search food, leaving children alone and exposed to violence and exploitation.
Climate change will also worsen existing inequities, the report highlighted. Children and families already living in poverty and lacking access to resources such as water and sanitation are less likely to recover from a severe weather event, pushing them further into poverty and making them more vulnerable in ensuing crises.
Of the 530 million children in flood-prone areas, nearly 100 million already lack access to safe water and over 270 million do not have access to sanitation.
Similarly, approximately 130 million children in high drought zones do not have access to sanitation and/or safe water.
In the report, UNICEF called for a cut in greenhouse gas emissions to limit global temperature increases. Without action, by 2050, the number of children living in higher-temperature and higher-risk zones is projected to triple to almost 1.5 billion.
During the G20 meeting in Turkey, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also urged for action, warning of the consequences of global warming. “Even a 2 degree rise will have serious consequences for food security, economic stability and international security,” Ban told
“I urge you to look beyond national horizons and work in the common interest,” he continued.
UNICEF also underscored the need to consider and include children in climate change adaptation.
“If shocks are going to become more frequent in the future, it is imperative to build resilience and improve equitable outcomes for children today,” UNICEF stated in the report.
At COP21, which begins on Nov 30, heads of State will meet to negotiate and set an international agreement keeping the average global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius.