Climate Action: We can do more together

Regions in the world have different expertise, and need to cooperate to build a sustainable, safe, and just future for children in South Asia.

Paula Schöberlein, UNICEF
09 June 2022

With each passing year, South Asia experiences more and more extreme weather events that put millions of children at risk. As I write this, children in Bangladesh are going to school by boat. Every child in South Asia is already exposed to at least one climate and environmental hazard, shock or stress such as extreme weather events, cyclones, air pollution, droughts and water scarcity. They are also at risk of death from diseases that could be exacerbated by climate change, such as malaria and dengue. Children contribute the least to climate change but are suffering the greatest consequences.   

The Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change report shows where South Asia stands regarding climate change. To summarize – NOT WELL. Besides the natural science evidence, we see how changes in our climate already are already affecting the lives of children and young people in South Asia.  

The recent catastrophic flooding in Bangladesh and India are blunt reminders of the recurring dangers millions of children, families and communities are forced to live through every year. About 170 million people in India’s coastal regions are exposed to sea-level rise, erosion, tropical storms and cyclones. Since March, an unprecedentedly severe heatwave has hit Pakistan and India, which destroyed crops and triggered heat strokes.  

Three-fourth of South Asian youth have told us that heatwaves and other weather calamities are impacting their studies by reducing their ability to concentrate, by damaging school buildings, or by preventing them from traveling to their school to attend classes. 69% of participants indicated that they are worried about climate change and its impact on the future.  

I recall reading the 2018 IPCC’s special report on 1.5°C which presented a worrisome future for children everywhere. It was at that moment when I decided to pursue a master’s degree in Environmental Policy.  

Today I work with UNICEF South Asia to advance tangible climate action for children and their families in the region. When I arrived in Kathmandu, I was eager to apply my theoretical knowledge in the field. There are two main streams when it comes to climate policies:  

  • Mitigation aims to reduce emissions and therefore limit global warming to non-catastrophic levels. A mitigation option in your daily life would be to switch from taking the car to the bike. Mitigation policies could reduce the use of fossil fuels in a national energy mix. 

  • Adaptation tries to better prepare communities and households for climatic changes. An adaptation option in your daily life would be to make your roof waterproof for stronger rainfalls. Adaptation policies could build dams or plant trees to increase the resilience to floods and landslides. 

Naturally, it is always the better option to tackle a problem at its roots than just dealing with the symptoms. Climate policies, especially in industrialized countries and therefore in my lecture halls at university, often target key measures to mitigate the impact of climate change. At the same time, the IPCC report clearly shows the importance of adaptation as more children are exposed to extreme climate impacts. 

Floods in Germany
Floods in Germany: Industrialized countries can learn a lot about adaptation to climate change from countries in South Asia.

South Asia has a lot to offer the world in terms of expertise in adaptation. Due to geography and climate, communities in South Asia are more experienced with natural disasters than other regions, even before global warming. Bangladesh is prone to floods, India suffers from heatwaves, and Nepal lies in a region frequented by earthquakes. The exposure led to better preparedness: As an example, Bangladesh has an elaborated disaster warning system for floods, while several countries in Europe, hit by unprecedented floods last summer, were widely unprepared and suffered avoidable losses.  

Green infrastructure can cool down the city, for example with green roofs and facades, as well as prepare for floods, like vegetation shields do. Additionally, informing and educating the population on how to react to hazards is a crucial and affordable adaptation effort, mostly lacking elsewhere.  

Working in South Asia taught me many things about climate and energy policies that were underrepresented in the European curriculum. The most important lesson: That there is so much existing expertise which can be leveraged on for global climate action. 

Besides the necessity for adaptation efforts around the globe, working on reducing emissions can never stop. Every particle of CO2 that adds up to the existent cumulation in the atmosphere will contribute to further warming. Our penultimate goal is the transformation to sustainable societies in all regions.  

The newly released IPCC report further observed that contrarily to often made arguments, development and low emissions can go hand in hand. The technology is there – and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals like “eradicating extreme poverty, [tackling] energy poverty, and providing decent living standards […] can be achieved without significant global emissions growth”. Here, UNICEF, governments of industrialized countries and other agencies can support emerging economies like the ones in South Asia to build emission-free societies to secure a sustainable future for children. 

UNICEF supports communities in South Asia with mitigation and adaptation efforts. Here, an Afghani girl washes her hands using a newly installed solar-powered water tap.

No doubt we have a challenging road ahead. Nonetheless, there are huge opportunities to turn the tide on climate change: Industrialized countries can learn much about resilience to natural hazards from communities in South Asia. Likewise, South Asian countries can benefit from adapting and adopting technologies used by many Industrialized countries to keep emissions low in emerging economies.