Environment and Climate Change

Impact on children

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-1163/Riccardo Gangale
Chad 2010: A girl carries her baby sibling through a haze of dust in Sidi Village, in Kanem Region

UNICEF’s daily work, with governments and other partners, is to improve child survival, to protect against disease, to providing access to safe water and sanitation, and provide food security and adequate nutrition. Climate change and environmental degradation will significantly raise the threats children face in all of these areas.

As a group representing nearly one third of the world’s population, the vulnerability and experience of children comprise a crucial and relevant component of the overall profile of human security. During the 2008 Bangladesh floods and cyclone, 20% of households reported having stopped sending their children to school in order to cope with the eventCompared to adults, children are more susceptible to the adverse effects of environmental degradation because of their physical, cognitive and physiological immaturity.

They are therefore more sensitive to adverse environmental conditions, such as poor air quality, contaminated water and extreme heat, in addition to current and projected climate impacts. Climate-related events are expected to increase the risks of both large-scale, sudden-onset disasters and more gradual and chronic systemic changes – impacting children in various

  • Sudden-onset disasters can shatter the world of a child in a matter of moments, destroying familiar surroundings and resulting in injuries, undernutrition or disease in the aftermath. Children may become orphaned or separated from their families, and may be preyed upon by opportunistic adults.
  • Gradual systemic change, including incremental ecosystem deterioration, will lead to long-term drought conditions in many regions, adding stress to and exacerbating the existing untenable conditions facing the most marginalized children. Melting of glaciers that supply freshwater to large population centers, sea level rise leading to saline intrusion into sources of freshwater for agriculture and drinking, changes in the spectrum of vector-borne diseases, and increasing air pollution from the continued burning of fossil fuels also threaten children’s health, quality of life, access to education and overall development.



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