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CLIMATE CRISIS: More than 700m children live in high-risk countries

Sahra* (8) and her family have been impacted by the drought in Somalia.

The UK is set to cut aid to 32 countries on the frontline of climate change as it hosts the world’s most important climate conference – COP26 – later this year

LONDON, 19 April - An estimated 710 million children[i] live in the 45 countries that are at the highest risk of suffering the impact of climate change, Save the Children warned today[ii]. Floods, droughts, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events will have an especially deep impact on vulnerable children and their families. 

Children in these countries will for example be impacted by food shortages, diseases and other health threats, water scarcity, or be at risk from rising water levels – or a combination of these factors.

An analysis by Save the Children of ND-Gain data[iii] shows that globally, hundreds of millions of children under the age of 18 are living in regions where climate change is deeply affecting their lives. The impact of the crisis on food production is likely to lead to local food scarcity and price hikes, with devastating impacts on the poorest households.

The UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) is set to reduce direct aid to 32 of the 45 most at-risk countries[iv], with a combined child population of 673 million[v]. In the 2020 financial year aid from the FCDO direct to the 45 countries fell by £600 million on the previous year – a 17 percent reduction.

This is set to be cut by a further £1.3 billion – or 44 percent – this year, with potentially devastating consequences for children and families.

In Yemen alone, UK aid for basic child nutrition and food assistance is set to fall by £36 million – or 12 percent, leaving already vulnerable children even more susceptible to the climate crisis.

Save the Children warned that drastic action must be taken to ensure children and their families will be able to cope with current and future climate-shocks.

The window to prevent catastrophic climate change is rapidly closing as the crisis is set to worsen[vi] unless urgent action is taken now, Save the Children said. As the present and future of children are at stake, they must be heard in the climate crisis–conversation and should be involved in shaping policies, the organisation urged.

“What I really can't forget is that I saw many houses falling because of too much rain and strong winds. I got scared. I don't know why all that rain fell and there was a gale wind. I didn't like that because afterwards we were left homeless and without food,” 14-year-old Baptista* in Mozambique told Save the Children. He and his three siblings have struggled to recover since Cyclone Kenneth struck their town in 2019.

As U.S. President Joe Biden holds a Leaders Summit on climate change starting on Earth Day (22 April), Save the Children urged that children, including the most marginalised and deprived who suffer first and worst, must be heard alongside world leaders who are joining the summit.

Analysis by Save the Children also shows that:

  • 70 percent of countries facing a high risk of climate impact are in Africa.
  • Climate change impacts are worsening the already dire situation in Yemen, where conflict has created severe food shortages, leaving millions of children at risk of hunger.
  • Children in Bangladesh are highly exposed to flooding, cyclones, and sea levels rise.
  • Malaria and dengue fever already plague children in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Increasing extreme weather events can lead to new health risks while the health system is already limited.

While all children are impacted by climate change, those living in poverty, conflict, or hunger, or in disaster-prone areas, will suffer most as they are often already deprived of their basic needs. Children in countries deemed at a “lower-risk” are facing threats as well, for example from forest fires, flooding, droughts, and other erratic weather events.

If drastic action is not taken, the impact of the climate crisis is likely to hit millions more children in decades to come, the organisation warned. Increasing climate shocks often make it a struggle for families to recover between each shock, especially in countries that lack social safety nets, pushing them further into poverty or forcing them to flee their homes.

Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children UK, said:

“Children are on the front-line of the climate crisis. We respond every day to emergencies caused by extreme weather events like droughts, floods, and storms – and we see how they impact child malnutrition, poverty, and outbreaks of disease. The world’s response to climate change will decide the prospects not just of millions of children now, but of future generations too.

“As the host of COP26, the UK has a huge opportunity and responsibility to bring the world together behind a plan to tackle climate change and support the communities worst affected by it. Unfortunately, cuts to our aid budget will mean less support for children living in countries at the forefront of the climate crisis. Calling on other countries to do more while the UK does less is a dereliction of leadership. That’s why the Government must urgently abandon its aid cuts.

“We have seen the power of children leading the way on climate change through a global movement. The UK and other governments should listen to the voices in that movement, act with the urgency that children are demanding, and ensure that COP26 produces results.”

Ahead of the Climate Summit on Earth Day, Save the Children urges the UK Government to take immediate and drastic action to address climate injustice head on, and avoid further catastrophic impacts on children and their families. This includes:

  • Acknowledging that the climate crisis is a child rights crisis that affects children first and worst.
  • Increasing climate finance, particularly for adaptation, with a specific focus on children in poorer countries, given as grants.
  • Ensuring a focus on children, especially from the most marginalised communities, at forthcoming climate events such as the Youth Summit in Milan and the COP26 in the Glasgow later this year. Children are equal stakeholders in addressing climate change, and their recommendations must be included in all climate-related policies.
  • Scale up adaptive and shock-responsive social protection systems – such as grants for pregnant mothers and children - to address the increasing impacts of climate change on children and their families. More countries need to work towards their commitment in the Convention on the Rights of the Child to ensure every child is protected from poverty, for example by providing universal child benefits to improve children’s well-being and build resilience. 


*Names changed to protect children’s identities

Notes to Editors

Methodology: The ranking of countries is from Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN), 2018 (latest dataset). We have extracted all countries with the 25% lowest adaptation score, making these countries at high risk of climatic shocks compared to other countries. For these 45 countries, we used the UN Population data for the year 2021 calculated the children population (age 0-17).
ND-GAIN considers six areas that are likely to be affected by climate change: ecosystem, food, health, human habitat, infrastructure, and water. ND-GAIN is using projected trends calculated against the RCP4.5 scenario. According to the IPCC, RCP 4.5 requires that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions start declining by approximately 2045 to reach roughly half of the levels of 2050 by 2100.

[i] Children of 0-17 years of age

[ii] For full country index see here: https://gain.nd.edu/our-work/country-index/

[iii] Notre Dame GAIN

[iv] The 32 countries are: Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Chad, Pakistan, Yemen, Tanzania, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Somalia, Syria, DR Congo, Afghanistan, Libya, Burundi, Angola, Cambodia, Ivory Coast, Eritrea, Gambia, Haiti, Laos, Madagascar, Mali, Papua New Guinea.

[v] FCDO submission to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), March 2021

[vi] Climate risks are based upon the intermediate scenario of RCP 4.5 https://sedac.ciesin.columbia.edu/ddc/ar5_scenario_process/RCPs.html