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Environment and climate change

Sustainability and children’s rights

A mother and child on a small raft in a storm
© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1730/Alquinto
A woman and her baby sit atop a raft as they are rescued from rising floodwater by their neighbours in Pasig City, Manila.

Climate change and environmental degradation threaten children’s rights.

Every child has the right to life, health, education and development and to have their interests be considered by adults. Addressing the impacts of climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions is imperative for protecting the world’s most vulnerable children. Children from the poorest and most marginalized families are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, even though they have contributed the least to the causes of climate change (greenhouse gas emissions from energy, forestry and agriculture)--and they often live in the most degraded or polluted environments. Furthermore, the responsibility of dramatically reducing emissions will fall on the shoulders of today’s children and future generations. 

“Climate change both feeds on and accentuates inequality”
—Anthony Lake, Executive Director, UNICEF (2014)

UNICEF addresses environmental sustainability to protect children’s rights in the following areas:

Climate Change
Climate change is one of the most critical issues facing children today. Addressing the challenges of environmental sustainability is imperative for UNICEF to protect the world’s most vulnerable children.

  • Climate impacts
    Children in communities around the world are already experiencing the impacts of climate change. Further, children in certain countries are at greater risk from the impacts of climate change; more than 600 million children live in the 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change. Children are the least responsible for the causes of climate change and yet are most vulnerable and bear the most significant impacts.

    Present and projected impacts include: reduced water access, increased malnutrition due to droughts, more desertification and floods, increased incidence and spreading of disease, and extreme climate events. Heatwaves, predicted to become more frequent and intense, affect infants and children most, as they are less able to regulate body heat. Drought, also on the rise, will increase hunger and malnourishment, as well as contribute to displacement.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
    The global community must step up its ambitions and embark on low carbon economic development to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Current commitments to reduce emissions are unlikely to meet the globally agreed maximum temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius - exceeding 2 degrees C is not an option for children.

    To complicate matters, many children in developing countries still live without clean and safe lighting and electricity in their homes, schools and clinics. Investments in sustainable energy to benefit children can deliver enormous gains to reach climate goals and advance children’s rights. Examples of low-carbon sustainable development that directly improve children’s lives include: fuel-efficient cooking stoves, renewable energy in school, solar-powered refrigerators and computer kiosks.

    Low-carbon development is crucial for the future of children and can pave a path to long-term sustainable development without increasing emissions. Low carbon investments can benefit the most disadvantaged children and produce a win-win for children and the climate.

Environmental degradation
The most disadvantaged children are also the most likely to live in poor and environmentally degraded environments. Every year, household air pollution contributes to over half a million deaths of children under five from acute respiratory infections, a critical issue for UNICEF. Air pollution in urban areas, risks from chemicals, waste, polluted water, and the lack of green and clean areas for children to play are crucial issues for UNICEF.

It is our collective responsibility to leave a sustainable world for our children and their children, who will have to face the impact of climate change and environmental degradation.






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