CREDIT: UNICEF Mike Alquinto
Over the last few weeks a flurry of studies have been released to coincide with the Fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment report, the most comprehensive scientific assessment of climate change. These include a clean air study saying a decrease in air pollution could save millions of lives, an Oxfam study warning about food shortages caused by climate change and studies saying both that global warming has slowed over the last decade and that the slowdown is only temporary.
UNICEF has added to the momentum with a study titled “Climate Change: Children’s Challenge“. The report argues that children bare the brunt of climate change even though they are the least responsible for it, and that they are passionate and vocal about the need for action.
In the foreword, broadcaster Jon Snow writes,
“Whilst our fathers and grandfathers lived through World Wars and wars of liberation, the effects — whilst devastating for humankind — surprisingly left the Earth’s ecosystem without long-term damage … What this report tells us very clearly is that while we may have chosen to sit on our hands and do shockingly little to reduce our impact on climate, our children know and our children’s children will come to know very well what is happening, and what we are not doing to combat it.”
The report states that more than 600 million children live in the ten most climate-vulnerable countries, where heat waves, disease, malnutrition and economic losses exacerbated by climate change will make life harder for them. It estimates that 25 million more children will be malnourished as a result of climate change by 2050, with a further 100 million suffering food insecurity — where they and their families are on the verge of running out. The report also says that 88 percent of the existing global burden of disease due to climate change occurs in children under the age of five.
In developed countries, like the UK, concern is high even if the direct impacts are less immediate. A recent UNICEF UK/Ipsos MORI poll found that 76 percent of children in the UK are worried about how climate change will affect the future of the planet and believe the world will have changed as a result of climate change by the time they are adults. 73 percent want the government to do more to tackle climate change.
To combat the challenges the report recommends more money for action and adaptation and redoubled efforts toward low carbon development, climate change treaties and stringent emissions targets.
A study published four years ago by statisticians at Oregon State University found that having children increases a person’s carbon footprint far beyond the savings that other energy-reducing behaviors may entail.
The study found that under current conditions in the United States, “each child ultimately adds about 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average parent — about 5.7 times the lifetime emissions for which, on average, a person is responsible.”.
The research also makes it clear that potential carbon impacts vary dramatically across countries. The average long-term carbon impact of a child born in the U.S. — along with all of its descendants — is more than 160 times the impact of a child born in Bangladesh.
So continued population growth and increased global consumption of resources act to compound the challenges facing future generations, especially in developing countries, where the populations are least responsible for the rise in greenhouse gasses.