A new report from Unicef reveals that by 2050, even in the best-case scenario, 2 billion children will face four to five dangerous heat episodes a year.
The climate crisis is also a child rights crisis: one in four children worldwide is already affected by the climate emergency, and by 2050 virtually all children in all regions will face waves of more frequent heat, according to a new report from Unicef.
For hundreds of millions of children, heat waves will also last longer and become more extreme, increasing the threat of death, disease, hunger and forced migration.
The findings come less than a fortnight before the start of UN Cop27 climate talks in Egypt, and after a catastrophic year of extreme weather events – heat waves, storms, floods, fires and droughts – have shown the speed and the scale of climate collapse facing the planet.
According to Unicef, 559 million children currently experience at least four or five dangerous heat waves a year, but their number will quadruple to 2 billion by 2050, even if global warming is reduced to 1.7 degrees, currently the best case on the table.
In the worst-case scenario, a 2.4 degree rise caused by burning too many fossil fuels for too long, an estimated 94% of children will be exposed to prolonged heat waves of at least 4 .7 days by 2050, compared to one in four children today. . In this climate nightmare, only small areas of South America, Central Africa, Oceania and Asia will escape dangerously long heat waves.
Children suffer more from the heat
Children and infants are less able to regulate their body temperature, making them more vulnerable than adults to the widespread effects of extreme and prolonged heat. This includes a myriad of health issues such as asthma, cardiovascular disease, and even death.
Furthermore, as intense heat exacerbates drought, it can also reduce access to food and water, which can hamper development and increase exposure to violence and conflict if families are forced to migrate. Studies have also shown that extreme heat negatively affects children’s concentration and learning ability.
“While the full force of the climate crisis will take some time to materialize, heat waves are upon us and they look incredibly bleak,” said UNICEF environment and climate expert Nicholas Rees.
Unicef’s report, The Coldest Year of the Rest of Their Lives, is a call to action for political leaders who continue to second guess and pander to big business interests, even though the past seven years were the hottest on record.
From the polar regions to the tropics, dangerous heat waves are increasing in frequency, duration and magnitude, already killing almost half a million people each year.
This year alone, heatwaves in China have dried up rivers and damaged crops, while temperatures hit 48C (118F) in Pakistan before record rains left a third of the country under water . Record temperatures across Europe led to tens of thousands of preventable deaths and reduced crop yields, while more than 100 million Americans were subject to heat advisories over the summer.
The warmer the planet, the more catastrophic the consequences
Unicef researchers looked at potential exposure to three measures of heat – duration, severity and frequency – based on two greenhouse gas scenarios used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. climate change for climate models. They encountered:
- In 2020, there were around 740 million children in 23 countries where temperatures exceeded 35°C (95°F) for at least 84 days. In the worst case, this will increase to 816 million children living in 36 countries, mainly in Asia and Africa. With so much heat, daily activities like play and school are compromised and more children are getting sick or dying.
- Children in Europe will be the most exposed to severe heat waves by 2050: one in three at best, two in three at worst. In the Americas, exposure to severe heat waves will increase fivefold, from 13 million to 62 million children in 2050.
- By 2050, 5-8 million children will be exposed to all three measures of intense heat, up from none in 2020.
Given that virtually all children within three decades will be exposed to extreme heat, even under the best fossil fuel reduction promises, Unicef is calling on governments to reduce emissions faster and more deeply, and to help communities prepare for what lies ahead.
“We need to increase funding for adaptation, because the impact depends on the ability of families and communities to survive…Having access to housing, water and air conditioning will mean life or death,” said Rees.
Advocates also urge world leaders at COP27 to listen to young people and prioritize their needs in negotiations next month.
“The climate crises of 2022 have been a powerful wake-up call to the ever-increasing danger ahead,” said Vanessa Nakate, climate activist and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. “Unless world leaders at Cop27 take action to correct the trajectory we are on, the heat waves will be even harsher than they already are.
By Nina Lakhani articles in English