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Children will pay the highest costs for the climate crisis

More than one billion children have an “extremely high risk” of suffering from the environmental shocks of the climate crisis, according to new report from UNICEF.

The researchers found that hundreds of millions of children are facing a dangerous threat – exposure to natural disasters, such as cyclones and heatwaves, combined with a lack of essential services, such as water and sanitation.

“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 UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

“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.”

“For three years, children have raised their voices around the world to demand action. UNICEF supports their calls for change with an unarguable message – the climate crisis is a child’s rights crisis.” 

The study showed that nearly half of the world’s 2.2 billion children live in one of the 33 countries that are most threatened by climate change. 

”Children in East Asia and the Pacific countries are on the frontline of the climate crisis and the climate hazards they face, from lethal heat waves to flooding to wildfires, are already becoming more severe and intense,” said UNICEF Regional Director Marcoluigi Corsi.

“The region is one of the most vulnerable to climate-related disasters globally, with about half of the population directly affected every year.”

Corsi noted that the climate crisis disproportionally affects the most vulnerable children and adolescents, exacerbating current inequalities and undermining the progress achieved over the last few decades.

According to the Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI), 240 million children are highly exposed to coastal flooding, 400 million children are highly exposed to cyclones, 600 million children are highly exposed to vector borne diseases, 820 million children are highly exposed to heatwaves, and 920 million children are highly exposed to water scarcity. Further, one billion children are are highly exposed to exceedingly high levels of air pollution.

While nearly every child around the world is at risk from at least one of these environmental hazards, an estimated 850 million children live in areas where at least four of these environmental shocks overlap, the study found. 

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

“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. UNICEF urges governments and businesses to listen to children and prioritise actions that protect them from impacts, while accelerating work to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The CCRI was developed in collaboration with several partners including the Data for Children Collaborative.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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