Climate Change and Environmental Sustainability
UNICEF estimates that by 2040, almost 600 million children globally are projected to be living in areas of extremely high-water stress
India’s average temperature has risen by around 0.7°C during 1901–2018.1 This rise in temperature is caused largely on account of greenhouse gases (GHG) induced warming leading to climate change. In 2019, India was the 7th most affected country due to climate change led extreme weather events – both in terms of the fatalities (2,267 people) as well as the economic losses (66,182 million US$ PPP).2 In fact, extreme weather events due to climate change have led to 17 out of 20 people in India being vulnerable to extreme hydrological and meteorological (or “hydromet”) disasters like flood, drought and cyclone.3
UNICEF’s 2021 report titled ‘The Climate Crisis Is a Child Rights Crisis: Introducing the Children’s Climate Risk Index’ (CCRI), presents the first child-focused global climate risk index. The report ranks India as 26th out of 163 ranked countries. This implies that children in India are among the most ‘at-risk’ to the impacts of climate change, threatening their health, education, and protection.4 The same report also shares that around 90 per cent of the world’s children breathe poisonous air every day, while air pollution is associated with some of the biggest killers of children, such as pneumonia. In fact, globally, countries in Asia (including India as per reports) and Africa experience the highest age-standardized rates of death attributable to PM2.5 as found out in the State of Global Air report for 2020.5 With 21 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities being in India (IQ Air Report, 2020), millions are at risk to respiratory and other related illnesses. A Lancet study from 2018 estimates that air pollution in India killed 1.24 million people in 2017 (12.5 per cent of total deaths).
Besides pollution related fatality, the WHO predicts that an additional 250,000 climate-related deaths will occur globally – per year – between 2030 and 2050, given the current trajectory, from malnutrition, malaria diarrhoea and heat stress. Especially women and children are at risk, as well as other vulnerable groups such as people with disabilities. UNICEF estimates that by 2040, almost 600 million children globally are projected to be living in areas of extremely high-water stress.6 Moreover, close to 25 per cent of children in India are experiencing high/ extremely high-water vulnerability .7
According to UN Women’s 2020 report on gender equality, “Men are 75 per cent of parliamentarians, hold 73 per cent of managerial positions, are 70 per cent of climate negotiators and almost all peace negotiators”. This means that women have inequitable shares of the decision-making power needed to address climate resilience issues that affect their employment, communities and families.
According to WHO’s 2017 ‘Inheriting a Sustainable World?’, 26 per cent of under five deaths could be avoided by addressing environmental health risks. Climate change is an ever-increasingly presence in our daily lives, and as such, resilience and mitigation measures addressing its consequences need to be incorporated into UNICEF’s current and future programmes. This is particularly true in this last ‘Decade of Action’ before the world’s nations have to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals in 2030.
According to UNEP’s 2020 Emissions Gap Report, a ‘green’ pandemic recovery in the aftermath of the spread of COVID-19 can ‘shave up to 25 per cent off the emissions we would expect to see in 2030 with the implementation of unconditional NDCs – bringing the world close to the 2° C pathway.
UNICEF Approach in India
UNICEF’s climate and environmental sustainability strategy is anchored around four pillars- i) make children as focus on environmental strategies ii) reduce emission and pollution iii) empower children as agents of change, iv) protect children from impacts.
t is the basis for our coordinated external advocacy, programmatic interventions, and internal greening efforts. Regarding our programmatic interventions, UNICEF has initially identified five areas where we have the potential to programmatically deliver climate related initiatives at scale in the near term:
a) climate smart health centres
b) climate smart schools
c) climate-resilient WASH services
d) tackling pollution (air, soil and water); and e) the engagement of children and young people.
The last area is considered as both a stand-alone area of focus, as well as integrated into each of the four other programmatic priorities.
In 2020, after witnessing how the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing inequities and collapsed social systems for vulnerable communities globally, UNICEF India recognized the importance of strengthening its support to communities to build their resilience against climactic and environmental shocks that could aggravate the spread of any future health outbreaks. Going forward, UNICEF India is committed to:
Advocating for every child's right to a sustainable and healthy future.
Influence government policy making efforts to promote inclusive and climate-responsive programming.
Strengthening service delivery that reflect climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience outcomes.
Empowering communities, especially women and children, with the resources they need to advocate for themselves and drive action; and
Investing in opportunities for convergent programme delivery, public-private partnerships, and financing or funding that will effectively amplify positive inputs and results contributing to climate action and environmental sustainability.
Over the coming two years, UNICEF seeks to identify opportunities with government partners and within programmatic blueprints to strengthen outputs related to building climate resilience, through adaptative and mitigative interventions being rolled-out for bolstering education, health, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), child protection, social protection and nutrition outcomes.