Children will bear the brunt of climate change in East Asia-Pacific and beyond: UNICEF

Globally more than half a billion children are left highly exposed to climate change

24 November 2015

NEW YORK/GENEVA/BANGKOK, 24 November 2015 – More  than half a billion children worldwide live in areas with extremely high flood occurrence and 160 million in high drought severity zones, leaving them highly exposed to the impacts of climate change, UNICEF said in a report released ahead of the 21st United Nations climate change conference, known as COP21.

Of the 530 million children in the flood-prone zones, some 300 million live in countries where more than half the population lives in poverty – on less than $3.10 a day. Of those living in high drought severity areas, 50 million are in countries where more than half the population lives in poverty. The Asia-Pacific region is one of the most disaster-prone in the world with 10 of the world’s 15 most at-risk countries, and many of these risks will be exacerbated by climate change.

“The sheer numbers underline the urgency of acting now,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “Today’s children are the least responsible for climate change, but they, and their children, are the ones who will live with its consequences. And, as is so often the case, disadvantaged communities face the gravest threat.”

The vast majority of the children living in areas at extremely high risk of floods are in the Asia-Pacific region. Vanuatu, Tonga, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea are finding the frequency and intensity of natural disasters increasing dramatically due to climate change, and sea level rise is threatening the very future Kiribati.

“The view from the Pacific is clear. We can speak with certainty and conviction when we say climate change is among the greatest threats to children in the region,” said UNICEF Pacific Deputy Representative Isabelle Austin. “Climate change is exacerbating and speeding up already existing challenges in low-lying countries such as Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands. And climate change is threatening to undo development gains made over decades – and it is threatening the very future of countries in the region.”

Families, communities and governments are also currently feeling the impacts of El Niño, with worsening drought conditions and predictions of an intense cyclone season ahead. While climate change does not cause El Niño cycles, it does exacerbate their impact. Impacts have so far been felt in Papua New Guinea, where 2.4 million have been affected by drought and frost, and in Indonesia where over 270,000 have suffered respiratory infections due to peat and forest fires. In all cases, children are often the hardest hit.

Climate change means more droughts, floods, heatwaves and other severe weather conditions. These events can cause death and devastation, and can also contribute to the increased spread of major killers of children, such as malnutrition, malaria and diarrhoea.

World leaders gathering in Paris for COP21 – held from November 30 to December 11 – will seek to reach agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, which most experts say is critical to limiting potentially catastrophic rises in temperature.

“We know what has to be done to prevent the devastation climate change can inflict. Failing to act would be unconscionable,” said Lake. “We owe it to our children – and to the planet – to make the right decisions at COP21.”

Media contacts

Noreen Chambers
Communication Specialist
Tel: +675 321 3000

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