One billion children at 'extremely high risk’ from climate crisis, Unicef warns

20th August 2021


Approximately one billion children live in countries that are classified as being at “extremely high risk” from the impacts of climate change, a report published today by Unicef has warned.

This equates to nearly half the world's 2.2 billion children, each of which face a deadly combination of exposure to multiple climate and environmental shocks, which is made worse due to inadequate essential services, such as water and sanitation, healthcare and education.

Young people living in the Central African Republic, Chad, Nigeria, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau are the most at risk, threatening their health, education, and protection, and exposing them to deadly diseases, according to the Unicef report.

Specifically, the UN agency estimates that a billion children are highly-exposed to exceedingly high levels of air pollution, with 920 million facing water scarcity, 820 million exposed to heatwaves, and 240 million threatened by coastal flooding.

This is the first comprehensive analysis of climate risk from a child’s perspective, ranking their exposure to climate and environmental shocks, such as cyclones and heatwaves, as well as their access to essential services.

“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,” said Henrietta Fore, Unicef executive director.

“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.”

Launched in collaboration with Fridays for Future on the third anniversary of the youth-led global climate strike movement, the report warns that 850 million children live in areas where at least four climate and environmental shocks overlap, and that the figures are likely to get worse as the impacts of climate change accelerate.

The report also reveals a disconnect between where greenhouse gas emissions are generated, and where children are enduring the most significant climate-driven impacts.

Just 9% of global CO2 emissions are estimated to emanate from 33 countries at “extremely high-risk” from the impacts of climate change. Conversely, the 10 highest-emitting countries collectively account for nearly 70% of global emissions.

Unicef is calling on governments, businesses and relevant actors to increase investment in climate adaptation and resilience in key services for children, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provide children with climate education and greens skills, include young people in all national, regional and international climate negotiations and decisions, and ensure the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is green, low-carbon and inclusive.

“Climate change is deeply inequitable. While no child is responsible for rising global temperatures, they will pay the highest costs,” Fore continued. “The children from countries least responsible will suffer most of all.

“But there is still time to act. Improving children’s access to essential services, such as water and sanitation, health, and education, can significantly increase their ability to survive these climate hazards.”

Image credit: iStock

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