Children Most Vulnerable to Climate Change
The large number of extreme weather events around the world, including floods in southern India, wildfires in the western United States and heatwaves across much of the northern hemisphere, are putting children in immediate danger, and jeopardizing their futures.
Worldwide Weather Changes and Events
June and July saw record high temperatures set across much of the northern hemisphere, with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reporting the first six months of the year have made it the hottest La Niña year on record.
From North America to east Asia, and from the Arctic Circle to Europe, large parts of the globe have experienced heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, floods, and landslides resulting in injury and loss of life, environmental damage and widespread loss to livelihoods including harvest loses.
Countries in Central America and the Caribbean are preparing for the peak of the hurricane season while still trying to recover from the devastating 2017 season, which was the costliest on record.
While individual weather events cannot specifically be attributed to climate change, the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather — including recent high temperatures, intense rains and slow-moving weather fronts — are in line with predictions of how human activities are affecting the global climate.
Major Killers of Children
Such events can cause death and devastation, and can also contribute to the increased spread of major killers of children, such as malnutrition, malaria and diarrhoea. And as these extreme climate events increase in frequency and magnitude, the risks to children will likely outpace global capacity to mitigate them as well as to provide humanitarian response.
Numerous studies have documented that human-induced climate change has increased the frequency and severity of heatwaves across the globe. Children are especially at risk as they adjust more slowly than adults to changes in environmental heat, and are more susceptible to heat-related health risks, with children under 12 months old particularly vulnerable.
Infants and small children are more likely to die or suffer from heatstroke because they are unable to regulate their body temperature and control their surrounding environment. Extreme heat conditions also increase the need for safe and reliable drinking water, while in many cases rendering such water more scarce through evaporation.
Floods threaten children’s survival and development, with direct impacts including injuries and death by drowning. Beyond these immediate risks, floods compromise safe water supplies and damage sanitation facilities, increasing the risk of diarrhoea and other disease outbreaks, as well as impacting children’s access to education.
Damage to housing endangers children’s well-being, particularly if emergency shelter is either scarce or inadequate. It also destroys infrastructure, making it difficult to move lifesaving assistance where needed.
Droughts have multiple effects on poor families and communities. Crops fail, livestock die and income drops, leading to food insecurity for the poor as well as rising food prices globally.
Water becomes scarce and the lack of food and water, as well as inequitable access to these necessities, can result in migration and social disorder, with children among the most vulnerable to the consequences of these effects.
Action needed on climate change includes:
- Strengthening health systems to respond to a changing climate and more frequent extreme weather events, including the scaling-up of information platforms to track the increased range of disease vectors, increased deployment of vaccines and an emphasis on disaster resilient construction. By strengthening the ability to provide health services to children in the aftermath of extreme weather events, we lessen longer-term impacts.
- Increasing the ability of educational services to be delivered in the aftermath of extreme weather events including through the use of disaster-resilient construction and the use of decentralized renewable energy.
- Increasing investment in and delivery of climate resilient agricultural, water and sanitation services. This includes a greater focus on understanding changing crop and water availability patterns as a result of climate events, providing access to financial mechanisms such as disaster risk insurance for farmers, and the use of decentralized low-carbon water supply and treatment options.
- Putting in place measures to protect children who have been displaced, migrate or are refugees as a result of climate change or climate-related impacts.
- Providing children and youth with climate change education and training to take advantage of the opportunities in climate and environmental response including renewable energy, early warning systems and the circular economy.
- Aligning and coordinating work on climate change adaptation, preparedness and disaster risk reduction. Planning’ and policies on climate change preparedness, response, and recovery must consider the full spectrum of children’s needs before, during and after severe climate events.
- Advocating for the rights and vulnerabilities of children to be reflected in national strategies, commitments and action plans including Intended Nationally Determined Contributions and National Adaptation/Mitigation Plans.
- Increasing understanding of the links between climate change and impacts on children; both the short term physiological and developmental effects and longer-term economic and intergenerational impacts. Responding to climate change is not only a moral imperative but makes economic sense.
- Deepen the evidence base on the links not only between climate action and global weather events, but also between a low-carbon economy and the potential for employment generation, local air pollution and national energy security. Responding to climate change makes sense from the perspectives of national security, domestic economy and the health of children.
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