The coldest year of the rest of their lives

Protecting children from the escalating impacts of heatwaves

Girl pouring water over her head
UNICEF Cambodia/2019/Fani Llaurado


The climate crisis is rapidly accelerating and with it, heatwaves are becoming longer, stronger, more widespread and more frequent. Already, around 559 million children are exposed to high heatwave frequency and around 624 million children are exposed to one of three other high heat measures - high heatwave duration, high heatwave severity or extreme high temperatures.

This report provides yet more evidence that children are on the front lines of the climate crisis.

By 2050, virtually every child on earth – over 2 billion children – is forecast to face more frequent heatwaves, regardless of whether the world achieves a ‘low greenhouse gas emission scenario’ with an estimated 1.7 degrees of warming in 2050 or a ‘very high greenhouse gas emission scenario’ with an estimated 2.4 degrees of warming in 2050.

These findings underscore the urgent need to adapt the services children rely on as unavoidable impacts of global heating unfold. It also makes a case for more substantial emissions reduction, to prevent the worst impacts of the other high heat measures. Millions more children will be exposed to high heatwave severity and extreme high temperatures depending on the degree of global heating reached. Children in northern regions will face the most dramatic increases in high heatwave severity while by 2050, nearly half of all children in Africa and Asia will face sustained exposure to extreme high temperatures. 


Heat is especially damaging to children’s health and affects their education and future livelihoods. Countries must act now by:

Protecting children from climate devastation by adapting social services.

Preparing children to live in a climate-changed world. 

Prioritizing children and young people in climate finance and resources. 

Preventing a climate catastrophe by drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and keep 1.5 degrees Celsius alive.

Almost every country is experiencing changing heatwaves. What each government does now will determine the survival of those least responsible for this crisis – our children and young people.  

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