London, 27 September – Children born over the past yeari will on average face seven times more scorching heatwaves during their lives than their grandparents, even if emissions meet the 2015 Paris Agreement reduction pledges.
This is according to new research released by Save the Children in collaboration with an international team of climate researchers led by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and published in the renowned journal Science.
It reveals that under the same conditions, newborns across the globe will on average live through 2.6 times more droughts, almost three times as many crop failures and river floods, and twice the number of wildfires as people born 60 years ago.
In Afghanistan alone, children could face up to 18 times as many heatwaves as their elders. Children born in Mali could be facing up to 10 times as many crop failures as their grandparents.
Some children might even be hit by several of these disasters simultaneously or in quick succession – exacerbating the devastating effects even further.
These climate impacts risk trapping millions more children into long-term poverty and threaten to undo decades of progress in the fight against hunger and stunting.
Gwen Hines, CEO of Save the Children, said: “Our report shows the terrifying reality for this generation and future ones if we don’t act now. The climate crisis is a child rights crisis at its core.
“Children in poorer countries and disadvantaged communities will be worst affected, but every child will feel the ravaging impact of climate change. We must listen to them.
“We can still turn this around, but we must scrap our dependency on fossil fuels, set up financial safety nets and support the hardest hit people.”
“The world is heading towards a rise of 2.6 - 3.1 degrees, but if warming is limited to 1.5 degrees, there is far more hope of a better future. We will only hit that target if global leaders scale up their ambition at COP26. As President of the summit, the UK government has privileged access and a global responsibility. It must be bold and put children’s rights and voices at the heart of the climate change agenda.”
“Without urgent action, we will be handing over a deadly future to our children.”
Children living in lower-and middle-income countries and disadvantaged communities are at far greater risk from waterborne diseases, hunger and malnutrition. Their homes are also often more vulnerable to increased risks from floods, cyclones and other extreme weather events.
But Save the Children says a catalogue of recent emergencies show that nowhere is safe. There have been heatwaves in the US and Canada, wildfires in Australia and floods in Europe and China. Droughts are driving food crises in places like Afghanistan, Madagascar and Somalia. The climate crisis is exacerbating the huge risks children already face as they are forced to flee their homes.
Born into the Climate Crisis: Why we must act now to secure children’s rights highlights the lifetime exposure to a range of extreme climate-related events faced by children born in 2020 compared to people born in 1960. It features first-hand accounts from children in 11 countries detailing the impact of climate change on their lives.
Under current commitments to the 2015 Paris Agreement, global temperatures are estimated to rise by 2.6 to 3.1 degrees. The inadequacy of most of the climate pledges will have a devastating impact on children. To avert catastrophic warming of the earth and to safeguard children’s futures, governments must redouble efforts to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, Save the Children said
The aid agency emphasised there is still time to turn this bleak prediction around. If warming is limited to 1.5 degrees, the additional lifetime exposure of newborns to heatwaves will drop by 45%; by 39% for droughts; 38% for river floods; 28% for crop failures, and 10% for wildfires.
Chatten, 16, was just 8 years old when his home in the Philippines was destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan—one of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever recorded—which devastated the country in 2013. Seeing the impacts of climate change first-hand inspired Chatten to become a climate activist. He now campaigns with Save the Children. He said:
"I've seen the effects of climate change with my own eyes. Typhoon Haiyan destroyed thousands of homes where I live and left many of my friends, relatives, classmates and other people homeless. Even before that, we were already experiencing a lot of climate-related disasters in my region, and each year it gets worse. In recent years we’ve had drought, extreme heat waves and landslides caused by heavy rains.
“Children have contributed least to the climate crisis and yet we're the ones who will suffer the most."
Save the Children’s recent Future of Childhood report revealed how children in the UK worry about the climate and how it and how it might change. They said they hope for a future in which the environment is considered, cared for, and protected.
The impacts of climate change disrupt children’s access to healthcare and education, especially for the already disadvantaged — such as girls, children in refugee communities, children with disabilities and Indigenous children. In Pakistan, for example, after the 2010 floods—made worse by climate change—24% of girls in Grade 6 dropped out of school, compared to 6% of boys[i].
Save the Children said that action on climate change is not only a moral obligation, but also a legal one for governments to act in the best interests of children.
Despite this, children are routinely left out of key decisions on the issue, even though it affects their lives most, and will for decades to come. Children need to play a key role in decisions on climate change, particularly those impacted by inequality and discrimination, the children’s charity said.
Laura, 16, from Chile, said in the report: “We will do our part, raising awareness among our peers, and close adults… We need joint work and real support from adults, even more so [from] the decision makers, because today we are at risk… and without action we will not have tomorrow.”
To limit the impacts of climate change on the lives of millions of children across the world, Save the Children is calling on the UK and all governments to accelerate their commitments to limit warming to 1.5°C, take serious action on financing and scale up support for adaptation and loss and damage. This is especially vital in the build up to and coming out from the COP26. Governments need to ensure that children are present and included at this critical juncture- not just to inspire action but to shape decisions that will affect them most.
Science is publishing a Policy Forum related to this report, which is also embargoed until 27 September at 00:01 BST. Reporters interested in obtaining a copy should please email the Science Press Package team at firstname.lastname@example.org (hours Monday-Friday 8am US ET to 5pm US ET).
Notes to editors:
Climate researchers led by the Vrije Universiteit Brussels used five sources of data: newly-generated global-scale simulations of climate impacts across six extreme event categories; life expectancy data from the United Nations World Population Prospects; global mean temperature scenarios compiled in support of the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius; gridded population reconstructions and projections; and country-scale cohort size data provided by the Wittgenstein Centre’s Human Capital Data Explorer.
The research calculates the exposure of an average person to climate impacts across their lifetime in 178 countries, 11 regions and the globe, then compares different age groups to calculate conservative estimates of lifetime extreme event occurrence as a consequence of climate change, while controlling for changes in life expectancy. The study defines current policies as the climate pledges outlined in each state’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) following the Paris Agreement and in this content considers a scenario with a global mean temperature increase of 2.4°C by 2100. The methods and results are documented in detail in a scientific publication published today in the renowned journal, Science.
Save the Children’s report was developed with the support of a Child Reference Group, made up of 12 children aged between 12-17 years old from Albania, Bangladesh, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Kosovo, Norway, Somalia, Sri Lanka, the United States, and Zambia. The children laid out how the impacts of intergenerational climate change are infringing on their rights to life, education, and protection.
Save the Children has spokespeople who can talk about the crisis on a global level or from countries where children are already on the frontline of climate change, including Bangladesh and South Sudan.
[i] Women, girls and disasters – A Review for DFID. Available from https://gsdrc.org/document-library/women-girls-and-disasters-a-review-for-dfid.
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