UNICEF Report – By 2050, every child in Iraq will be exposed to high heatwave frequency

UNICEF warns urgent action is needed to increase funding for adaptation to protect children, and vulnerable communities from worsening heatwaves and other climate shocks.

26 October 2022

BAGHDAD, 26 October 2022 – 559 million children are currently exposed to high heatwave frequency* globally, according to new research from UNICEF. Further, 624 million children are exposed to one of three other high heat measures - high heatwave duration, high heatwave severity or extreme high temperatures, with Iraq being among the countries currently with the highest child exposure to extreme high temperatures and most concerning forecasts for 2050.

The report The Coldest Year Of The Rest Of Their Lives: Protecting Children From The Escalating Impacts Of Heatwaves highlights the already extensive impact of heatwaves on children and reveals that, even at lower levels of global heating, in just three decades, more regular heatwaves are unavoidable for children everywhere.

The report estimates that by 2050, all of the world’s 2.02 billion children are expected to be exposed to high heatwave frequency, 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.

Forecast for Iraq is especially worrisome. While in 2020, only 6% of Iraqi children are exposed to high heatwave frequency, both scenarios for 2050 project not only that every single girl and boy in Iraq will be exposed to high heatwave frequency by that year, but they will also be exposed to high heatwave duration and extreme high temperatures.

Millions more children will be exposed to high heatwave severity and extreme high temperatures depending on the degree of global heating reached. Currently 23 countries fall into the highest category for child exposure to extreme high temperatures. This will rise to 33 countries by 2050 under the low emissions scenario and 36 countries under the very high emissions scenario. Iraq is among the countries in the highest category in both scenarios.

“As UNICEF Executive Director has stated, the mercury is rising and so are the impacts on children,” said Sheema SenGupta, UNICEF Representative in Iraq. “Already, 9 out of 10 children in Iraq are exposed to extreme high temperatures, and it is only going to get worse. More children and young people will be impacted in Iraq by longer, hotter and more frequent heatwaves over the next thirty years, threatening their health and wellbeing, and likely worsening mental health conditions and impacting most vulnerable children, especially girls.” And she finished, “The two scenarios from the report demonstrate the need to take measures now. How devastating these changes will be depends on the actions we take now. Quoting our Executive Director, this is the only way to save children’s lives and futures – and the future of the planet.”

Young people in Iraq are taking action to respond to the impact of heatwaves. Mujtaba Jafar Abdulazeez Alshawi is a 20-year-old climate change activist, quoted in the UNICEF global report, “I got involved in climate change advocacy because climate change has a huge impact on Iraq, especially in my city, Misan. During the summer months the temperatures can reach as high as 50°C. The air conditioning is not available in all public places or at stops on the road, making it challenging to move around and deal with the heat.” Mujtaba is clear about the way forward, “We need to take action now. We need to implement and take previous climate agreements more seriously, like the Paris Agreement, as well as move to sustainability and not rely on materials that increase pollution.”

Produced in collaboration with The Data Collaborative for Children and launched in partnership with UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Vanessa Nakate and Africa-based Rise Up Movement, 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 continued mitigation, to prevent the worst impacts of the other high heat measures, including longer and hotter heatwaves and higher extreme temperatures.

The report found high heatwave duration currently impacts 538 million, or 23 per cent of, children, including adolescents, globally. This will rise to 1.6 billion children in 2050 at 1.7 degrees warming, and 1.9 billion children at 2.4 degrees warming, emphasising the importance of urgent and dramatic emissions mitigation and adaptation measures to contain global heating and protect lives.

Heatwaves are especially damaging to children, as they are less able to regulate their body temperature compared to adults. The more heatwaves children are exposed to, the greater the chance of health problems including chronic respiratory conditions, asthma, and cardiovascular diseases. Babies and young children are at the greatest risk of heat-related mortality. Heatwaves can also affect children’s environments, their safety, nutrition and access to water, and their education and future livelihood.

UNICEF is calling on governments globally to:

  • PROTECT children and young people from climate devastation by adapting social services. Every country must adapt critical social services - water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), health, education, nutrition, social protection, and child protection – to protect children and young people. For example, food systems must be strengthened to withstand hazards and ensure continued access to healthy diets. Increased investments must be made in the early prevention, detection, and treatment of severe malnutrition in children, young people mothers and vulnerable populations. At COP27, children, young people and their rights must be prioritized in decisions on adaptation.
  • PREPARE children and young people to live in a climate-changed world. Every country must provide children and young people with climate change education, engagement and participation opportunities on climate action, disaster risk reduction education, green skills training and green jobs and opportunities to meaningfully participate and influence climate policy making. COP27 must see countries strengthen the focus on children's climate education and empowerment in the ACE action plan, adopt it, and implement previous commitments to build young people’s capacity.
  • PRIORITIZE children and young people in climate finance and resources. Developed countries must deliver on their COP26 agreement to double adaptation funding to $40bn per year by 2025 at a minimum, as a step to delivering at least $300bn per year for adaptation by 2030. Adaptation funding must make up half of all climate finance. COP27 must unlock progress on loss and damage, placing the resilience of children, young people, and their communities at the center of discussions on action and support. 
  • PREVENT a climate catastrophe by drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and keep 1.5 degrees Celsius alive. Emissions are projected to rise by 14% this decade, putting us on a path to catastrophic global heating. All governments must revisit their national climate plans and policies to increase ambition and action. They must cut emissions by at least 45% by 2030 to keep heating to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. 


Notes to editors:

Download The Coldest Year Of The Rest Of Their Lives: Protecting Children From The Escalating Impacts Of Heatwaves’ report.

The report follows UNICEF’s publication of The Children’s Climate Risk Index in 2021. Read the CCRI here.

Download multimedia content here.


Heatwaves – any period of 3-days or more when the maximum temperature each day is in the top 10% of the local 15-day average.

High heatwave frequency - where there are on average 4.5 or more heatwaves per year.

High heatwave duration - where the average heatwave event lasted 4.7 days or longer.

High heatwave severity - where the average heatwave event is 2°C or more above the local 15-day average.

Extreme high temperatures - where, on average, 83.54 or more days a year exceed 35°C.

2050 scenario one - a ‘low greenhouse gas emission scenario’ with an estimated 1.7 degrees of warming by 2050. This is an established scenario used in climate modelling and defined by the IPCC as “SSP1”.

2050 scenario two - a ‘very high greenhouse gas emission scenario’ with an estimated 2.4 degrees of warming by 2050. This is an established scenario used in climate modelling and defined by the IPCC as “SSP5”.

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