Remarks by Paloma Escudero, Head of UNICEF's COP27 delegation and Director of Communications and Advocacy, at the launch of UNICEF report “The Coldest Year Of The Rest Of Their Lives: Protecting Children From The Escalating Impacts Of Heatwaves”

As prepared for delivery

25 October 2022

"Good morning - Good afternoon

"Thank you for joining us today. Before I introduce our amazing panel of young leaders, let me briefly speak to the findings of the new UNICEF climate report we are launching today: “The Coldest Year Of The Rest Of Their Lives. Protecting Children From The Escalating Impacts Of Heatwaves.”

"This year – all over the world – we have seen evidence of the increasing dangers presented by climate change.

"From historic flooding in Asia, to deadly droughts in Africa, plus the wildfires and heatwaves that swept through India, Europe, and North America, it is clear the climate crisis is here and it is having devastating impacts on the well-being of children and young people globally.

"Our children can no longer count on the environmental and social conditions previous generations have been used to. They are being forced to grow in a world that is becoming far more dangerous and uncertain.

"In August 2021, UNICEF launched The Children’s Climate Risk Index, the world’s first child-focused climate index.

"It found that 1 billion children globally – almost half of the world’s children – are at ‘extremely high risk’ of suffering from climate shocks such as heatwaves, cyclones, flooding and water scarcity.

"The UNICEF climate index sounded the alarm on the climate dangers children face and made it crystal clear that the climate crisis is a child rights crisis. 

"This year, we took a closer look at heatwaves and the unique way children are affected by them.

"Children are more vulnerable to the impacts of extreme heat and heatwave events than adults. Infants and young children are less able to regulate their body temperature compared to adults, putting them more at risk when exposed to high heat.

And beyond the threat that heatwaves pose to children’s health, they also threaten their access to food and water, their education, and their future livelihoods.

"This past year, many of us experienced extreme heatwaves in the cities where we live. And as we moved indoors, as we drank more fluids, as we even closed schools in some places and took many other steps to keep ourselves and our young people safe, a frightening conclusion became apparent to us all:

"If you think this summer was hot, wait until next year, and the year after that, and the year after that.

"Indeed, for our children, for the young people you will hear from today, this was likely the coldest year of the rest of their lives.

"As we examined the data for this new climate report, we were struck by just how fast heatwaves are escalating. Our projections for 2050 make it clear, the full force of heatwaves is right around the corner.

"We discovered that children on every continent are experiencing now the devastating impacts of heatwaves and that, by every measure, more children will be exposed to heatwaves by 2050 compared to 2020, threatening their wellbeing and in some cases, their very survival.

"With thanks to our partners at The Data Collaborative for Children, who spearheaded this analysis, let me share four key topline findings and figures.

"559 million children – or 1 in 4 are currently exposed to high heatwave frequency. By 2050, virtually every child on earth – just over 2 billion children – is forecast to face frequent heatwaves, 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.

"528 million children are impacted now by high heatwave duration. This will rise to 1.6 billion children in 2050 under a ‘low greenhouse gas emission scenario’ or 1.9 billion children under a ‘very high greenhouse gas emission scenario’.

"28 million children are exposed now to high heatwave severity. Under a ‘low greenhouse gas emissions’ scenario the number of exposed will almost quadruple to 100 million. It is an almost eight-fold increase to 212 million children under a ‘very high emissions scenario’.

"740 million children live now in countries experiencing extreme high heat of 84 or more days per year exceeding 35 degrees Celsius. This will rise to about 816 million by 2050 under a ‘very high greenhouse gas emission scenario’.

"Again, we see how the devastating results of climate change are not discriminating across borders. Heatwaves are escalating in every corner of the world.

"There is an inherit injustice to this. Some of the countries least responsible for the climate crisis are the ones warming fastest, and facing the most frequent and damaging impacts.

"Children from the poorest communities face the greatest risks from heatwaves, and yet often receive the least support.

"They are more likely to lack access to coping mechanisms that could offer protection such as air conditioning, shelter, water for hydration and healthcare for treatment.

"We need to equip communities with the resources they need to withstand the heatwaves they are inevitably going to face.

"So again, we sound the alarm.

"In collaboration with and on behalf of children and young people everywhere, UNICEF is making 10 key asks of world leaders now, and at COP27 in Egypt next month.

"One - UNICEF urges leaders and governments to take immediate action to protect children from climate devastation by adapting the critical social services they rely on, such as water, health, nutrition and education. All social services must be climate-sensitive and all climate policies and plans must be child-sensitive.

"Two - We urge countries to implement comprehensive climate adaptation plans – this is one of the most effective ways of protecting children and young people from the impacts of the climate crisis now and is critical for the resilience of every country.

"Three- Further, developed countries must deliver on their COP26 commitments 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. 

"Four - Climate adaptation funding must make up half of all climate finance. And all climate adaptation funding must be child-sensitive.

"Five - As a global community, we must do this while continuing to reduce emissions and transitioning to renewable energy production.

"Six - All governments must revisit their national climate plans and cut emissions by at least 45 per cent by 2030 to keep heating to no more than 1.5°C. G20 countries should take the lead.

"Seven - To help children prepare for the future, governments must provide them with climate change education, green skills training and opportunities to meaningfully participate and influence climate policy-making.

"Eight - At COP27, we must see children and their rights prioritized in decisions on adaptation. 

"Nine - We want to see delegations strengthen the focus on children’s climate education and empowerment in the ACE action plan, adopt it, and implement previous commitments to build youth capacity. 

"Ten - We want to see progress on loss and damage, with the survival of vulnerable children and their communities at the center of discussions.

"Young people on the frontlines of this crisis, like Fatima Faraz who is with us today from Pakistan, deserve more attention from world leaders and a more meaningful seat at the table in the decisions that will define their future.

"That’s why UNICEF works all around the world with young people and youth movements like Vanessa Nakate and the Rise Up Movement, Sophia Kianni and the Climate Cardinals and Luisa Neubauer and Fridays for Future.

"And it’s why – for COP27 – we are going to do everything we can to ensure young people have a meaningful role.

"We are calling on all parties to include children and young people within their delegations so that they can access the negotiations that will decide their futures and we are using UNICEF’s platform to give them the floor, and the microphone.

"This is a decisive moment for the future of our planet and for our young people.

"Now, it is time for you to hear from them.

"It is my pleasure to hand over to UNICEF’s newest Goodwill Ambassador, Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate."

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