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Has climate change put 1 billion children at risk?

UNICEF's new Children's Climate Risk Index is a grave reminder of how the climate crisis is threatening the health, education and safety of kids across the world

Nearly 820 million children are currently highly exposed to heatwaves. Photo: Pete Linforth on Pixabay
Nearly 820 million children are currently highly exposed to heatwaves. Photo: Pete Linforth on Pixabay

The United Nations Children’s Fund has recently stated that at least 1 billion children across the globe are at risk due to the climate crisis.  “Children bear the greatest burden of climate change. Not only are they more vulnerable than adults to the extreme weather, toxic hazards and diseases it causes, but the planet is becoming a more dangerous place to live,” mentions UNICEF's new report, titled ‘The Climate Crisis is a Child Rights Crisis’. 

As part of this, the United Nations body has also launched the Children's Climate Risk Index. It ranks countries based on children's exposure to climate and environmental shocks, such as cyclones and heatwaves, as well as their vulnerability to these disasters. This report comes ahead of the November 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, thus giving countries the opportunity to take drastic action to prevent some of these events and set appropriate carbon budgets. 

“We must acknowledge where we stand, treat climate change like the crisis it is and act with the urgency required to ensure today’s children inherit a liveable planet,” mentions the foreword, ‘Fridays for Future’, signed by activists such as Adriana Calderón from Mexico, Farzana Faruk Jhumu of Bangladesh, Kenyan Eric Njuguna, and Greta Thunberg from Sweden.

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The index presents some distressing figures. It mentions that nearly 820 million children (over one third of children globally) are currently highly exposed to heatwaves. This is likely to worsen as global average temperatures increase and weather patterns become more erratic. At least 920 million children are currently exposed to water scarcity. “This is likely to worsen as climate change increases frequency and severity of droughts, water stress, seasonal and interranual variability, contamination – and demand and competition for water increases, resulting in depletion of available water resources,” states the report. The risk of vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue is likely to worsen in the coming years as climatic conditions become conducive for the growth of mosquitoes and pathogens. 

So, what makes children more vulnerable to climate crisis more than adults? The report clearly outlines the risks: for one, they are physiologically more vulnerable. “They have their whole life ahead of them–any deprivation as a result of climate and environmental degradation at a young age can result in a lifetime of lost opportunity,” adds the report. 

Also read: Are children facing long-term mental distress?

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