As climate change impacts unfold UNICEF builds the resilience of the most vulnerable children and their families.
The climate crisis is a child rights crisis. It directly threatens a child’s ability to survive, grow, and thrive. Extreme weather events put their lives at risk and destroy infrastructure critical to their well-being. Children are physically and physiologically more vulnerable to climate and environmental shocks than adults. They are less able to withstand and survive extreme weather such as floods, droughts, storms, and heatwaves. They are also at higher risk of diseases that are exacerbated by climate change, such as cholera, malaria, dengue and zika. It is estimated that 88 per cent of the additional disease burden from climate change will be borne by children under five years.
While nearly every child around the world is at risk from at least one of climate and environmental hazards. The data reveal the worst affected countries face multiple and often overlapping shocks that threaten to erode hard fought development progress and deepen child deprivations. Children from countries that contribute the least to climate change are suffering the greatest consequences. At present, an estimated 850 million children (1 in 3 worldwide) live in areas where at least four of these climate and environmental shocks overlap.
For children who are already disadvantaged, the risks of climate change are even higher; as shocks become more frequent and intense, poorer families will face increasingly greater difficulties recovering. The combined effects of climate change and environmental degradation are exacerbating existing inequities and pushing the poorest, most vulnerable children, young people, and women further into poverty driving migration and social tension.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, an estimated 169 million children live in areas impacted by at least two climate and environmental hazards and 47 million children (1 out of 4) live in areas impacted by at least four shocks. The Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI) reveals that in Latin America and the Caribbean:
- 55 million children are exposed to water scarcity;
- 60 million children are exposed to cyclones;
- 85 million children are exposed to Zika;
- 115 million children are exposed to Dengue;
- 45 million children are exposed to heatwaves;
- 105 million children are exposed to air pollution.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, the consequences of climate change and increased exposure are already extensive:
- Hurricanes in the Caribbean destroy and disrupt infrastructure critical to children’s well-being, including schools, health facilities and transport.
- Floods destroy homes, schools, and health care services. They also compromise water and sanitation facilities, leading to contamination of drinking water sources and spread of diarrheal diseases which particularly affect small children.
- Droughts, disappearing glaciers and water scarcity lead to crop failure and rising food prices, which for poor children mean food insecurity and nutritional deprivations that can have lifelong impacts. It also put children’s access to water at risk, sometimes forcing them to carry it long distances to support their families.
- The spread of vector borne diseases, such as malaria, zika and dengue, is exacerbated by rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns. Children living in the in the Amazon region are at particularly high risk.
- The migration flows of vulnerable families intensifies as shocks and water and resource scarcity disrupt livelihoods and increase the risk of displacement. Sea level rise severely affects coastal zones and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Caribbean forcing families to leave their homes. In 2020 alone, 2,8 million persons in LAC were internally displaced due to weather events.
While children, adolescents and youth are particularly vulnerable to climate and environmental shocks, they also have knowledge, ideas and initiatives that contribute to increasing the resilience of their families, communities, and countries. At the local, regional and global level girls, boys, adolescents, and young people are leading climate and environmental movements demanding governments to take urgent action for a safer and more resilient future.
The climate crisis is a child rights crisis, and time is running out to make the transformations necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. UNICEF is committed to making children and their families and communities more resilient, ensuring their active participation as climate champions and collaborating with governments, civil society, academia, and private sector to define the solutions for a safer and more sustainable tomorrow.
Fulfilling the Convention on the Rights of the Child and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is impossible without realizing the global climate change mitigation and adaptation goals, ensuring environmental protection and a transition to sustainable energy, while reducing disaster risks.
UNICEF has 75 years of experience in delivering and strengthening social services and empowering children and young people. Our goal is to work with and for children and young people to tackle environmental degradation and climate change, so they have access to clean water, clean air, and a safe and sustainable environment.
UNICEF is committed and calls on governments, businesses, and all relevant actors to:
1. Increase investment in climate adaptation and resilience in key services for children. To protect children, communities and the most vulnerable from the worst impacts of the already changing climate, critical services must be resilient, including water, sanitation and hygiene systems, and health and education services.
2. Cut greenhouse gas emissions. To avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis, comprehensive and urgent mitigation action is required. Countries must reduce their emissions by at least 45 per cent (compared to 2010 levels) by 2030 to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
3. Provide children with climate education and greens skills. Children and young people will face the full devastating consequences of the climate crisis, yet they are the least responsible. We have a duty to ensure all young people and future generations have the skills and knowledge critical for their adaptation to and preparation for the effects of climate change.
4. Include young people in all local, national, regional, and international climate negotiations and decisions. Children and young people are agents of change and must be included in all climate-related decision making. They will also bear the brunt of the climate crisis and thus have a right to be part of the formulation of the solutions.
As part of this work, UNICEF has a regional action strategy for the climate empowerment of children, adolescents and youth in Latin America and the Caribbean (2023-2025).
- Generate evidence about the impacts on children
UNICEF continuously documents and analyzes the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation on Latin American and Caribbean children, their rights, and the social services on which they depend. This evidence is fundamental to raise awareness about children’s particular vulnerabilities and it enables governments and other key actors to take action to increase children’s resilience.
UNICEF has developed 11 country reports and a regional report on the climate impacts on children in LAC (Climate Landscape Analysis for Children (CLACs)). UNICEF has also generated the global Children’s Climate Risk Index providing the first comprehensive view of children’s exposure to climate and environmental shocks, such as cyclones and heatwaves, as well as their vulnerability, based on their access to essential services.
- Strengthening the sustainability of services to protect children
Services such as water and sanitation, health, and education will be increasingly pressured as a result of climate-related weather events and increasing pollution. Ensuring that these services can continue to function without disruption are central to protecting children in the face of a changing climate. UNICEF supports the development and scaling up of efforts to ensure that social services are climate resilient and has a minimal negative impact on the environment.
UNICEF is continuously working to strengthen the climate resilience and environmental sustainability of our programmes by, for example, promoting climate-resilient water and sanitation services and the use of renewable energy in health centres and schools, and by monitoring and responding to air and plastic pollution.
- Increasing child-sensitivity in climate and disaster risk and recovery policies, strategies and plans
UNICEF works with governments, youth organizations and other key allies to enhance the ambition of the LAC countries' climate pledges to the Paris Agreement and to ensure the inclusion of child rights in national and local adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction policies and plans. We also support, for example, health and education ministries to include climate resilience and sustainability in their sector policies.
UNICEF has assessed the child-sensitivity of climate change laws, policies, strategies, and plans in Latin America and the Caribbean region and is strengthening climate and environmental policies and plans in, for example, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, the East Caribbean region, Ecuador, and Peru.
- Empowering young people to be climate and environment champions
UNICEF is working with children, adolescents, and young people to establish spaces where they can raise their voices and develop solutions to the climate crisis. Together with children, adolescents and young people, UNICEF advocates for urgent and child-sensitive climate action to ensure a safe and sustainable future for all.
Climate and environmental education and green skills development are the key to increasing children’s, adolescents’, and youth’s resilience and to prepare them for engaging with the emerging industries driving the shift to a low-carbon economy. UNICEF is promoting strengthened and action-oriented climate and environmental education across the Latin American and Caribbean region.
UNICEF has reviewed evidence on youth participation in these processes and supports the establishment of official child, adolescent and youth participation mechanisms in, for example, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, and Peru. Together with youth activists from across the region, we have developed the Toolkit for young climate activists and Try harder!, How young advocates advise on Climate Action in Latin America and the Caribbean.
UNICEF is also building strategic alliances with private sector and other actors to facilitate youth’s entry to green jobs, increase girls presence in STEM and provide opportunities for innovation.
These resources represent a selection of materials produced by UNICEF and its partners in the region. The list is regularly updated to include the latest information.
- Declaration on Children, Youth and Climate Action
- Children’s Climate Risk Index
- An Environment Fit for Children: UNICEF’s approach to Climate Change
- A Liveable Planet for Every Child – Strategy at a Glance on Climate, Environment, Energy and Disaster Risk Reduction
- Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic for tackling the climate crisis
- COVID-19, Climate Change & Environmental Degradation: Key Asks for Public Sector Partners
- Reimagining our Future: Building Back Better from COVID-19