UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Vanessa Nakate's remarks 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
“In January 2019, as a wave of youth climate strikes were starting to spread around the world, I was just about to graduate from business school in my hometown of Kampala, Uganda.
"December and January are some of the hottest months in Uganda, and that December had been especially hot. So much so that it was hard to sleep in my attic bedroom at my parents house after the sun went down.
"I am sure I am not the only one with stories like this, as you will hear from my friends and fellow activists in a moment.
"This new analysis from UNICEF confirms that children on every continent are experiencing the impacts of heatwaves now. And it is quickly going to get worse.
"I wrote in the foreword for this report about the military term “scorched earth”. It describes troops deliberately destroying things that are valuable to their enemies. It is also what we are doing to our planet.
"Through our refusal to curb emissions, we are allowing global warming to continue. We are literally scorching the earth with escalating heat, deliberately destroying the asset most precious to our collective well-being – our planet.
"After I had read the findings, I felt a bit sick. We know that heat is the climate impact that will escalate soonest.
"But I was shocked to read that by 2050, virtually every child on earth – over 2 billion - will be exposed to a high heatwave frequency. This is up from only 24 percent of children in 2020.
"It is worrying and it is a warning signal for the world. The heatwaves will be followed by more droughts, wildfires, floods, cyclones and other climate shocks, and we are not prepared.
"Every region is affected by heatwaves in different ways, but this new analysis paints a scary picture for Africa in particular.
"The UNICEF report finds that while only 10 percent of children in Africa are currently exposed to frequent heatwaves, this will rise to 100 per cent by 2050, under both scenarios of warming.
"Exposure to heatwaves of long duration is also expected to surge in Africa, from 5 percent of African children to 72 per cent and 91 per cent in 2050 under the low and very high emission scenarios respectively.
"And by 2050, nearly half of all children in Africa will face sustained exposure to extreme temperatures over 35°C, up from one in three children currently.
"Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger and Sudan are among the countries in the highest category for extreme high temperatures, across all scenarios.
"Africa is on the frontlines of the climate emergency, despite being the least responsible for the emissions that caused climate change.
"Countries in North Africa have been witnessing an increasing number of droughts and wildfires in recent years due to extremely high temperatures. Further south in Uganda, where I am from, a combination of longer droughts, rising temperatures, and more severe flooding is destroying livelihoods and disrupting food supply.
"Because the country is heavily reliant on agriculture, countless people have lost their incomes and even their lives at the hands of the climate crisis.
"Sadly, scientists expect climate shocks to become even more catastrophic and the competition for land, food and water to increase. This is a future no child should have to face. But in Uganda, millions are.
"So, what do we do? Firstly, we cannot allow this data to remain only as numbers on a page. The most powerful thing that my recent trip with UNICEF to the Horn of Africa reinforced is that there are people – children - behind each one of these numbers.
"These data points represent cousins and neighbours, who worried about their future. They represent young mothers I met in Kenya, struggling to find food for their children. They represent my fellow African activists, rising up to demand that leaders take action.
"And this is where I find hope. These people are not waiting for others to act on their behalf, they are finding solutions in their communities and speaking truth to power. But they must be included, and listened to.
"Secondly, the world has a responsibility to ensure that we are prepared for what is to come.
"World leaders must plan for and invest in adaptation. Schools, hospitals, water services, nutrition centres – these essential services must be adapted first, and with children in mind.
"The global south needs more climate finance for this adaptation. And on top of it, the loss and damage caused by the climate crisis needs to be accounted for.
"And finally, we need to reduce emissions faster. The commitments made by our leaders are very disappointing. It is not good enough.
"People are calling COP27 the 'African COP'. If it is to live up to this name, leaders from the largest polluting countries need to take real action on emissions.
"They also need to agree to a facility for sending Loss and Damage finance to the most affected communities, so that the children suffering from these heatwaves at least have the resources to rebuild after they lose everything."