The Impact of Climate Change on Children

Climate change will disproportionately affect children across their lifetime.

The Impact of Climate Change on Children

Climate change will disproportionately affect children across their lifetime. Children are the least responsible for climate change, yet they will bear the greatest burden of its impact.

The potential future effects of global climate change include more frequent wildfires, longer periods of drought in some regions and an increase in the number, duration and intensity of hurricanes.

The potential future effects of global climate change include more frequent wildfires, longer periods of drought in some regions and an increase in the number, duration and intensity of hurricanes.

In 2017, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that up to 1 billion children have endured violence either physical, emotional, or sexual. In 2018, globally there were 149 million children under 5 year of age were stunted and 49 million severely under-weight (wasted) due to malnutrition.

On a statistical level these figures are far too high and there is a long way to go, however, they represent progress from previous years.

This progress is at risk due to climate change. Climate change is impacting human lives and health in a variety of ways. It threatens the essential ingredients of good health - clean air, safe drinking water, nutritious food supply, social and economic stability, and safe shelter. Climate change has the potential to undermine decades of multilateral progress in global health and safety.

Clean Air

The drivers of air pollution are the same as those of climate change. Approximately two billion children live in areas where air pollution levels exceed standards set by the WHO ─ causing them to breathe toxic air and putting their health and brain development at risk. Every year, over half a million children under the age of

5 die from air-pollution-related causes. Even more will suffer lasting damage to their developing brains and lungs.

Food & Water Insecurity

Already today, some 785 million people lack access to basic water services. And by 2040, WHO project that almost 600 million children will live in areas where the demand for water will exceed the amount available.

Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress alone. The direct financial costs to health

is estimated to be between USD 2-4 billion per year by 2030.

Droughts and changing global rainfall patterns are leading to crop failures and rising food prices, which for the poor mean food insecurity and nutritional deprivations that can have lifelong impacts. These also have the potential to destroy livelihoods, drive migration and conflict, and destroy educational and employment opportunities for children.

Natural Disasters

The WHO report that every year natural disasters kill around 90,000 people and affect close to 160 million people worldwide. Natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, wildfires, heat waves and droughts are predicted become more intense as climate change worsens. Natural disasters have an immediate impact on human lives and often result in the destruction of the environment, causing a longer-term impact on health, well-being and survival.

Children are particularly vulnerable when disaster strikes. Disasters can result in mass displacement and food and water insecurity, which can impact on health and vulnerability to disease. Often natural disasters result in a loss of infrastructure and interruption to basic and emergency services that ordinarily protect the vulnerable. Children may miss out on education for long periods due to destruction of infrastructure and

recovery efforts.

Associated health effects of disaster such as smoke inhalation from wildfires disproportionately effect children as the health effects of the recent Australian Bushfires has demonstrated. The proportion of children and adults treated for respiratory problems skyrocketed.

Natural disasters can have a significant impact on children’s physical and mental health before during and after the event. Children may suffer anxiety, trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder depending on their level of exposure to the event and support they receive.

Mass displacement

There is a risk of mass displacement due to rising sea levels, conflict and economic instability, natural disasters, and other environmental issues. Where there are large displaced populations children are at increased risk of neglect, abuse or exploitation, especially if they lose one or both parents in the disaster. While disasters and humanitarian situations can bring help, they can also attract opportunistic predators. There have been incidents where children and other vulnerable people have been trafficked, abused and exploited in the chaotic wake of natural disasters and where mass displacement occurs.

Child Vulnerability

For children who are already disadvantaged, the stakes are even higher. Poorer families have a harder time coping with shocks. The most vulnerable are already losing their homes, health and education, As climate change makes crises more common, it becomes harder to recover from them. Where children are already experiencing abusive or compromised care, they will become increasingly vulnerable when the additional stressors of a disaster and displacement are present.

Along with action against climate change, governments should have clear Child Safeguarding protocols in place that protect children when disaster strikes. Disaster prevention and preparedness can help mitigate the risks to children and vulnerable adults. Protocols should include but not limit their response to ensuring:

- Children are safe and accounted for, particularly vulnerable children such as those with disabilities or vulnerable parents;

- Access to water, food, sanitation and hygiene services;

- Access to health and mental health services;

- Health risks are mitigated with effective treatments and hazard protections;

- Safe spaces for children to live, play and recover;

- Access to education during recovery periods;

- Access to counselling and therapeutic inputs;

- A coordinated multi-agency response that ensures that service delivery is disrupted as little as possible immediately after the disaster and during recovery efforts.

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Sarah Rothera
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