The Impact of Climate Change on Children in the MENA Region
Speech (As Delivered): Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East & North Africa
Parliamentary Assembly- Union for the Mediterranean Speakers’ Summit
3 December 2021
Brussels (via video)
Good day excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
I’m delighted to be with you today at this high-level forum and thank you for the invitation.
Climate change is a game changer for the civility of the world including the Middle East and North Africa and for children and young people.
The Middle East and North Africa is among the world’s most vulnerable regions when it comes to climate change.
The region is projected to experience increasing temperatures, water stress and scarcity, drought and instances of extreme weather events.
MENA is warming at twice the global average. By 2050, the region could be as much as four degrees Celsius warmer. This is way beyond the 1.5-degree Celsius target set by the Paris Agreement.
In the Middle East and North Africa region, young people are the fastest growing population. Some 60 per cent of the region’s population is under the age of 25, making this region one of the most youthful regions in the world with the median of 22 years compared to the global average of 28.
At the same time, the region is home to the highest number of unemployed young people in the world.
According to a recent survey, one in five young people in the MENA region considered migrating. In some countries, this is as high as 50 per cent.
UNICEF sees the climate crisis as a child’s rights crisis. Climate change poses major threats to children and young people’s health, nutrition, education, survival and their very future. Children are less able to survive extreme weather events, and are more susceptible to toxic chemicals, temperature changes and diseases.
Droughts and changing rainfall patterns lead to crop failures and rising food prices, which for the poor simply mean less food and with that, a lifelong impact on children. Climate change can destroy livelihoods, drive migration and conflict, and cripple opportunities for children and young people. The
Middle East and North Africa region is testament to all of this with more than half of the countries living in crisis or underdoing ripple effects of conflicts and wars, some long term and some more recent.
In some countries in the region, climate change is aggravating conflicts and violence with disputes over scarce resources such as water, reduced economic opportunities, and strained public services. And with that, forced displacement including for millions of children.
Children and young people on the move whether internally displaced, refugees or migrants are probably among the most exposed to the impact of climate change, with the least resources to cope. Often excluded from services, let alone decisions on climate action, children’s voices remain unheard, their concerns, ambitions, dreams and wishes often ignored.
Let me say a few words about migration. For young people in particular – when it is safe and empowering – migration can provide opportunities to pursue aspirations and diversify skills. With the urgent need to transition to a low carbon economy, young migrants can play a significant role to fill talent gaps in cities and countries.
Water scarcity is of particular concern in MENA. The region contains 11 of the 17 most water scarce countries in the world. Nearly nine out of 10 children in the region live in areas of high or extremely high water stress. As temperatures increase due to climate change, evaporation rates will increase, and more water will be drawn from already depleting groundwater reserves. Climate aggravated water scarcity is one of the greatest threats to child survival and development in the region, with the potential to drive further displacement and migration.
Last month, UNICEF co-hosted a high-level event on water scarcity together with the League of Arab States and FAO. Arab states made recommendations to accelerate action to address water scarcity in the face of climate change with a focus on actions at the highest levels within countries, as well as between countries.
So, rather than just highlighting the problem, how can we turn words into action? How can we create solutions for and with children and young people?
Here’s what we are calling for:
- Make children the focus of environmental strategies. Children include the most vulnerable migrant and displaced and should be recognized as part of government and business climate change strategies and plans, including key climate documents such as the Nationally Determined Contributions and the National Adaptation Plans.
- Make children and young people part of the decision-making process for government climate and environmental policies, especially those who are on the move and already adapting to the impact of climate change. This should also include the systematic integration of climate change science in school curricula.
- Protect services that cater for children and the impact of climate change through adaptation initiatives. Schools, water systems, sanitation facilities, health care and other social services need to be climate resilient and able to withstand environmental shocks.
- Prepare for climate mobility including “safe migration” as an option for children and young people affected by climate change. Expand safe and legal pathways for children and young people impacted by climate change and provide migrant and displaced children with basic services regardless of their migration status.
- Exchange skills and training for young people between countries or cities of origin and destination, with a focus on upskilling for jobs of the future especially as the agriculture and the oil and fossil energy sectors become less viable. This is a win-win for young people, communities, economies and the environment.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
Let me say that children in MENA and UNICEF count on you distinguished Members of the European Parliament, the EU and Parliamentarians in the region. The EU has rightly prioritized climate change mitigation and adaptation in its external action, and through its renewed Southern Neighborhood Policy. It has the instruments to support Middle East and North Africa countries to address climate change, protect children and adapt development strategies to provide opportunities for young people and children for transition to adulthood.
There is no solution to climate change without the involvement not only of young people as is well established now but of children as well.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org/mena
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