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Half the world’s children at ‘extreme risk’ from climate change: UNICEF report

The report includes a Children’s Climate Risk Index that revealed every child on earth is exposed to one of the major climate events

A billion children are already at “extremely high risk” from impacts of climate change, which is threatening their health, education, and protection, and exposing them to deadly diseases, according to a UNICEF report

The report titled ‘The Climate Crisis Is a Child Rights Crisis: Introducing the Children’s Climate Risk Index’  provides the first comprehensive view of children’s exposure and vulnerability to the impacts of climate change through the Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI). It is launched in collaboration with Fridays for Future on the third anniversary of the youth-led global climate strike movement.

What is CCRI?

CCRI is a model that has been developed to study the exposure of children to numerous “climate and environmental shocks and stresses.” It plans to present a balanced view of different sectors (especially related to climate) responsible for the well-being of children.

It is a multilayer model that is structured according to two main pillars. The first pillar measures a child’s exposure to climate and environmental shocks and stresses and the other pillar records a child’s vulnerability.

According to the report, the index is the Beta version and it will continue to be modified. The index does not include Small Island Developing Nations (SIDS) that have a land area less than 20,000 sq/km due to data availability limitations. However, the future version of the index plans to include the SIDS.

Impacts of climate crisis is deeply inequitable

Almost every child on earth is exposed to one of the major climate events, including heatwaves, cyclones, water scarcity, and flooding, the report said. However, it revealed that children residing in one of the 33 countries are facing multiple and often overlapping impacts simultaneously. 

The top three countries on the list are the Central African Republic, Chad, and Nigeria. South Asian countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar are also amongst the 33 nations.

According to the report, these 33 highest-risk places contribute least to the cause of climate change as they emit less than 10% of the global greenhouse gas emissions. Conversely, the 10 highest emitting countries collectively account for nearly 70% of global emissions, and only one of these countries (India) is ranked as ‘extremely high-risk’ in the index, it said.

The Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI) reveals:
240 million children are highly exposed to coastal flooding;
330 million children are highly exposed to riverine flooding;
400 million children are highly exposed to cyclones;
600 million children are highly exposed to vector-borne diseases;
815 million children are highly exposed to lead pollution;
820 million children are highly exposed to heatwaves;
920 million children are highly exposed to water scarcity;
1 billion children are highly exposed to exceedingly high levels of air pollution

A crucial way to help vulnerable countries respond better to climate change is ensuring they receive the technical and financial support required to make greater use of clean energy. Unfortunately, the report found out that the extremely high-risk countries received only $9.8 billion in support of clean energy research and development and renewable energy production, including in hybrid systems. 

“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 Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director. 

The way ahead

According to the report, if proper actions are not taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, children will continue to suffer the most. Moreover, children require more food and water per unit of their weight as compared to adults, which makes them more vulnerable to extreme climate events, it noted.

Fore believes that 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 prioritize actions that protect them from impacts while accelerating work to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” she added.

The report claimed investment that improves access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services can reduce climate risk for 415 million children. It advised countries to reduce their emissions by at least 45% (compared to 2010 levels) by 2030 to keep warming below 1.5°C.

It also recommended including young people in all national, regional, and international climate negotiations and decisions, including COP26.

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