Children have been at the forefront of the climate movement

A new UN report finds that nearly half the world’s children are at “extremely high risk” from the effects of global warming.

The Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI), conducted by UNICEF, found that almost all the world’s 2.2 billion children are exposed to at least one climate or environmental risk from floods, drought, heatwaves, and air pollution.

It also found that nearly half of these children live in 33 countries facing multiple environmental shocks. These countries include much of sub-Saharan Africa, India, Nigeria, and the Philippines and are among the world’s lowest carbon emitters, but extreme weather coupled with existing inequities made children there more vulnerable.

The report used high-resolution maps showing changes to the climate overlaid with maps showing factors contributing to child vulnerability such as poverty and access to education, healthcare, food, and clean water.

UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said, “For the first time, we have a complete picture of where and how children are vulnerable to climate change and that picture is almost unimaginably dire. Virtually no child’s life will be unaffected.”

Climate activist Greta Thunberg also contributed to the report’s foreword along with other activists. 

In the lead-up to this year’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, the 18-year old activist urged world leaders to use the November summit to take concrete action.

“We are still just talking and greenwashing things instead of taking real action,” the activist said at a press conference to launch the report. “We are not just victims, we are also leading the fight. But the world is still not treating the climate crisis as an emergency.” 

Thunberg was joined by other young activists including Mitzi Jonelle Tan, 23, from the Philippines, who spoke of doing homework by candlelight as typhoons raged outside or fearing drowning in her bed as floodwaters filled her room.

After months of extreme weather and dire warnings from scientists, world leaders’ “empty promises and vague plans” were no longer enough, Tan said.

Fore said young people globally were leading by example, pointing to a UNICEF survey that found nine out of ten children in 21 countries felt it was their responsibility to tackle climate change.

Many children have been inspired by Thunberg, who has become the face of the campaign to combat climate change.

US actress Jane Fonda was so inspired by Thunberg that she launched a parallel movement, Fire Drill Fridays, in Washington. She and other celebrities staged sit-ins on Capitol Hill to support Thunberg’s message.

“They are more politically savvy than we ever were at that age,” Fonda said when asked about the young climate crusaders who inspired her. “They’re much more sensitive of diversity. This can’t be a white, elite climate action.”

Thunberg’s activism began when as a 15-year-old student she skipped classes to launch a protest outside her school against climate inaction, which then moved to the outside of Sweden’s parliament house. 

On the third anniversary of the Thunberg-led school strikes, UNICEF chief Fore said “there is still time to act”, citing the role of governments and businesses in listening to children and in prioritizing “actions that protect them from impacts while accelerating work to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions”.


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