Over-consumption in the world’s richest countries is destroying children’s environments globally, new UNICEF report says

‘The most important thing is to act and to put children’s needs at the centre while building environmental policies’, said Sanja Saranovic, UNICEF Deputy Respresentative in Bulgaria

01 June 2022
Зам. представителя на УНИЦЕФ Саня Шаранович се срещна с вицепремиерът по климатични политики и министър на околната среда и водите Борислав Сандов
UNICEF Bulgaria/2022/Lilia Yotova

Sofia, 1 June 2022 – The majority of wealthy countries are creating unhealthy, dangerous and noxious conditions for children across the world, according to the latest Report Card published by UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti.

Innocenti Report Card 17: Places and Spaces compares how 39 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and European Union (EU) fare in providing healthy environments for children and was presented today at the Bulgarian Ministry of Environment and Water by UNICEF and Deputy Prime Minister for climate policies and Minister of Environment and Water Mr. Borislav Sandov.

The report features indicators such as exposure to harmful pollutants including toxic air, pesticides, damp and lead; access to light, green spaces and safe roads; and countries’ contributions to the climate crisis, consumption of resources, and the dumping of e-waste.

Bulgaria ranks 35th overall among the 39 countries in the Report Card

but it is important to note that it does not rank poorly in all three dimensions.

The country performs poorly in terms of children's exposure to harmful environmental pollutants and the quality of their immediate environments, however, it is doing quite well on the macro-level indicators that focus on the sustainability of consumption.

Many children are breathing toxic air both outside and inside their homes, the report says.

Bulgaria is among the countries where the average exposure of the population to fine particulate matter is high.

Colombia (3.7) and Mexico (3.7) have the highest number of years of healthy life lost (per 1,000 children under 15) due to air pollution, while Japan (0.2) and Finland (0.2) have the lowest. For Bulgaria this indicator is 1.7. Children lose also years of healthy life because of unsafe water sources.

Poor households face higher risks when it comes to indoor air pollution, access to safe and clean water and homes that are dark. Among 31 European countries, poor households with children were more than twice as likely to be overcrowded and have difficulties keeping their home warm as nonpoor households with children. Children living in poorer households face much greater risk and harm, and tend to live in poorer-quality neighbourhoods with fewer places to play.

Bulgaria is among the countries with highest percentage of children living in severe housing deprivation, understood as overcrowding overlapping with either damp, darkness, or inadequate sanitation.

Bulgaria is the country with the highest percentage of households that have difficulty heating their homes – 26% of all households and around 48% of the poor households in the country.

Damp and mould are major environmental risk factors within the home that contribute to upper respiratory infections, asthma and bronchitis. In Bulgaria, 12.9% of children live in a dwelling with damp or mould.

More than a quarter of the households (27%) in Bulgaria live in an overcrowded dwelling

which has a negative impact on children’s academic performance and the physical and mental health of the household members.

To present the responsibility of each country for the whole world, the report marks the overconsumption of the Earth resources in each of the contries included in the report.

If everyone in the world lived like the average person from Report Card countries, the equivalent of 3.3 earths would be needed to keep up with consumption levels. If everyone were to consume resources at the rate at which people in Canada, Luxembourg and the United States do, at least five earths would be needed. For a consumption level as in Bulgaria, 2,3 earths would be necessary.  

‘Virtually every child on earth is already affected by climate change, environmental degradation and biodiversity loss. Action is falling short, which means that the impacts upon children and young people will worsen.

The most important thing is to act, to listen to the voices of children and young people and to put children’s needs at the centre while building environmental policies’

- said Sanja Saranovic, UNICEF Deputy Respresentative in Bulgaria.

‘When we make decisions and determine policies, we want to include the voice of young people. We will involve more and more young people not just in the debates, but in making our world cleaner and better’

- assured Deputy Prime Minister for climate policies and Minister of Environment and Water Borislav Sandov. He noted that the curriculum is also being updated so that the topic of climate change is well integrated with lessons and exercises throughout the overall learning process. The Deputy Prime Minister added that steps are being taken in the country towards a deeper study of the relationship between the environment and human health, including children’s health. ‘With the Ministry of Health, we are actively working to compare the public health map with the pollution map,’ Sandov said.

UNICEF is calling governments at the national, regional and local level need to lead on improvements to children’s environments today, by reducing waste, air and water pollution, and by ensuring high-quality housing and neighbourhoods. Environments for the most vulnerable children must be improved. Children in poor families tend to face greater exposure to environmental harm than do children in richer families. This entrenches and amplifies existing disadvantages and inequities.

Media contacts

Stela Stoyanova
Communications Associate
UNICEF Bulgaria
Tel: +359 896 59 89 60
Boryana Gidikova
Communication Officer
UNICEF Bulgaria
Tel: +359 893 52 52 40


UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.