The climate crisis is the defining human and child’s rights challenge of this generation, and is already having a devastating impact on the well-being of children globally. Understanding where and how children are uniquely vulnerable to this crisis is crucial
in responding to it. The Children’s Climate Risk Index provides the first comprehensive view of children’s exposure and vulnerability to the impacts of climate change to help prioritize action for those most at risk and ultimately ensure today’s children inherit a liveable planet.
Three years ago, with a lone protest by a single child, Fridays for Future began. Within months, that lone protester would grow to over a million in more than 120 countries. Young people, from all corners of the globe, uniting in a global call to save the planet, and save their future.
Climate change is the greatest threat facing the world’s children and young people. We have known this for some time – based on what science told us, what the stories we heard from around
the world have illustrated, and what we have witnessed with our own eyes – but today, we have the first analysis of climate risk from the most important perspective on this crisis – ours.
UNICEF’s Children’s Climate Risk Index reveals that 1 billion children are at ‘extremely high risk’ of the impacts of climate change. That is nearly half of all children. And it is happening today.
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.
Increasingly catastrophic droughts, fires and storms are forecast to become even worse as our planet continues to warm. Important food and water systems will fail and entire cities are expected to succumb to destructive floods.
Climate change is the greatest threat facing the world’s children and young people. And so we too are rising.
In Bangladesh, exposure to cyclones, droughts, floods, salinity and river erosion moved Tahsin
to action. He is raising awareness of waterways choked by plastic waste and dangerous erosion at river edges.
In the Philippines, Mitzi is leading youth in the fight for climate justice. Recently, she spent two dark days in a house without power separated from her family during a typhoon – not knowing whether her home had been consumed by the floods, or if her mother was safe.
In Zimbabwe, Nkosi wants to know how he can be expected to attend school “under a scorching sun”. He has been a vocal climate activist for years but fears his efforts might be in vain.
We all share this fear. Governments said they would protect us, but they are not doing nearly enough to stop climate change from devastating our lives and our futures.
In 1989, virtually every country in the world agreed children have rights to a clean environment to live in, clean air to breathe, water to drink and food
to eat. Children also have rights to learn, relax
and play. But with their lack of action on climate change, world leaders are failing this promise.
Our futures are being destroyed, our rights violated, and our pleas ignored. Instead of going to school or living in a safe home, children are enduring famine, conflict and deadly diseases due to climate and environmental shocks. These shocks are propelling the world’s youngest, poorest and most vulnerable children further into poverty, making it harder for them to recover the next time a cyclone hits, or a wildfire sparks.
The Children’s Climate Risk Index ranks countries based on how vulnerable children are to environmental stresses and extreme weather events. It finds children in the Central African Republic, Chad, Nigeria, Guinea, and Guinea- Bissau are the most at risk.
And yet these countries are among those least responsible for creating the problem, with the
33 extremely high-risk countries collectively emitting just 9 per cent of global CO2 emissions. In contrast, the 10 highest emitting countries collectively account for nearly 70 per cent of global emissions. Only one of these countries is ranked as extremely high-risk in the index.
We cannot allow this injustice to continue. It is immoral that the countries that have done the least are suffering first and worst.
Governments and businesses urgently need to work to tackle the root causes of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.
This report comes ahead of the November 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. There is still time for countries to commit to preventing the worst, including setting the appropriate carbon budgets to meet Paris targets, and ultimately taking the drastic action required to shift the economy away from fossil fuels.
While we do that, we must also find solutions to build resilience and help those already in trouble. This crisis is happening now.
We will strike again and again until decision-makers change the course of humanity. We have a duty to urgently raise awareness and demand action. What began on a Friday three years ago, has continued every Friday since, including today. We have a
duty to each other and to the children that are too small to hold a pen or a microphone, but that will experience even greater challenges than we are. Movements of young climate activists will continue to rise, continue to grow and continue to fight for what is right because we have no other choice.
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.
Adriana Calderón, Mexico,
Farzana Faruk Jhumu, Bangladesh, Eric Njuguna, Kenya,
Greta Thunberg, Sweden.
FRIDAYS FOR FUTURE
Image and text copyright: UNICEF