Growing Up in a Changing Climate

The Impact on Children in the Middle East and North Africa

On 13 March 2023, Mohammed, Nabil's son, helps his father to fetch water from a nearby charity tank in Dhamar Governorate, Yemen.
UNICEF/UN0819051/Ali Alsunaidar

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The world has already warmed by 1.2° Celsius (C) compared to pre-industrial levels and greenhouse gas emissions are at record levels and still climbing. On our current trajectory, the increase in global average temperature will rise to 2.7°C by the end of the century. Climate change impacts in the MENA region will inevitably increase as the capacity of human and natural systems to adapt fails to keep pace.

Climate change disproportionately impacts children. Children and youth account for nearly half of MENA’s population, with adolescents making up 26 per cent of the population. 

Climate change exacerbates threats that are already significant in the MENA region. Armed conflict, socio-political unrest and instability, poor environmental management and massive forced human movement can all increase the vulnerability of children in an uncertain climatic future. Between 2016 –2021, there were an estimated 1.1 million child displacements across the region due to weather-related events (e.g., floods, storms, droughts and wildfires) which are exacerbated by climate change. 

Key messages contained in this report include: 

  • In the MENA region, climate change is raising temperatures at a faster rate than the global average. 
  • More than 82 million children in MENA face either high or extremely high climate risks. 
  • Climate change will result in increased heatwaves, vector-borne and other infectious disease morbidity and mortality , water stress, and air and water pollution. 
  • Children are more vulnerable than adults to climate events, both physiologically and psychologically. 
  • Children across the MENA region are affected by extreme weather events including, droughts and floods that result in displacement, food scarcity and a myriad of challenges facing their families. 
  • Migrant and displaced children are at heightened risks of dropping-out of school, exploitation, child trafficking and abuse. 

Achieving long-term, regional success for children requires coherent climate policy and action across the region. Iterative and ‘no regrets’ risk-informed approaches are needed to address emerging and novel risks, the scope and scale of which are unprecedented in human history. Establishing child-critical services and systems (health, education, child protection and social protection) that are shock-resistant, portable and inclusive will be critical. Effective early warning systems coupled with multisectoral disaster preparedness actions will be required to ensure effective response to climate shocks. Finally—and crucially—children and youth must be empowered to contribute to the solutions that will help them survive and thrive. 

Children have the right to inherit a world that they can prosper in. The climate crisis is an existential threat that we hand to the children of today (and future generations) – who have made the least contribution to the climate crisis, and often have the least say in how it is mitigated and managed. 

Immediate action needs to be taken to protect child rights and ensure their healthy development. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) urges governments, donors, development partners and the private sector to take the following actions: 

  • Protect children and their environment by adapting critical services that children rely on and strive to ensure clean air and non-exposure to pollutants that are dangerous for their health.; 
  • Build on the region’s young population, providing them with the knowledge, skills, and opportunities to move the climate change agenda forward, for the transition to a climate resilient future. 
  • Conduct specific research on the impact of climate change on children.
Growing up in a Changing Climate - cover photo
Author(s)
UNICEF
Publication date
Languages
English

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