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Climate Change heats up threats to children

© UNICEF/BANA2007-00274/Noorani
Children wash their hands with dirty water from a pond in Borguna District, ravaged by floods and natural disasters.
by James Elder

26 November 2012: When Superstorm Sandy ravaged areas from the Caribbean to the mid-Atlantic and north-eastern United States, more and more people turned to climate change as a possible cause for the calamity. No one can say for sure, though Sandy was yet another extreme event, part of a pattern that increasingly can indeed be attributed to climate change.

As Jim Yong Kim, the first scientist to head the World Bank, said last week, “97 per cent of scientists agree on the reality of climate change”. Meanwhile, a UN report also released last week said the world is straying further away from commitments to combat climate change, bringing the prospect of catastrophic global warming a step closer. Such a warning is timely, as nearly 200 governments prepare to meet in Qatar for international climate negotiations starting Monday (26/11). The meeting comes just as it is announced that there is now one-fifth more carbon in the atmosphere than there was in 2000, and there are few signs of global emissions falling.

So whilst the first face of global warming was that of a polar bear, it is now increasingly clear that those under greatest threat are children. More than two billion to be exact.

And their number grows with the inaction. The head of the Nigerian youth climate coalition, Esther Agbarakwe, mixes her energy with her outrage. “Too often the elders feel that they have the monopoly of knowledge on issues like this,” she said recently during The Debate, from UNICEF’s Office of Research. “But right now we are seeing a lot of children calling out to tell the world how climate is impacting them.”

Their calls include: increased malnutrition, disease, illness; exacerbated displacement and migration; and increasing poverty. Meanwhile the Stern Review estimated that the outcome of carrying on with business as usual would be “catastrophic”, resulting “in an economic collapse akin (in today’s money) to the cost of fighting the two world wars and the 1930s stock market crash combined.”

© UNICEF/BANA2008-01346/Uddin
Aisha, a flood affected woman receives a “Family Kit” from UNICEF as part of a relief operation in Boraitoli Union Porishod, Chokoria, Cox’s Bazar
Had enough bad news? Sorry, no silver lining just yet. “This is just the tip of the iceberg – the future is going to be extremes beyond our imagination,” said Dr Tom Mitchell, head of climate change at the Overseas Institute of Development during the UNICEF debate.

But there is some hopeful news. Climate change can be reversed, or managed, if action is taken now.  And action has begun, though perhaps not where most would expect. Says Professor Saleem Ul Huq, Senior Fellow in the Climate Change Group at the International Institute for Environment and Development: “I would characterize the least developed countries as probably being the most proactive on this issue. They’ve all carried out assessments of climate change impact and national adaptation plans, which many of them are now implementing. For example, the government of Bangladesh has already invested in the order of $300 million in implementing it, so they’re not waiting for the rest of the world to come to their rescue. They’re doing what they can themselves.”

Perhaps most importantly, climate change represents both a challenge unlike any the world has ever faced, but also a rare opportunity for billions of people to truly act with a shared mission, bringing us together on a planetary scale. “And therefore,” says Ul Huq, “there is a solution. People in rich countries, as well as rich people in poor countries, all have a carbon footprint, as do the poor, though much less. If your footprint is higher than the global average, then you must know your lifestyle leaves a victim, and you must respond accordingly.”

Time is running out. Everyone must adapt. Everyone must reduce emissions. Children must be empowered to protect themselves and innovate. And everyone must raise their voice.



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