80 per cent of young people affected by a climate or environment related event

UNICEF South Africa U-Report poll highlights the specific impact of climate and environment related events on children and young people but also hope for change through local youth initiatives, green economy jobs and climate action following COP 26

04 November 2021

PRETORIA, 04 November 2021 – Some 80 per cent of young people say they have been directly affected by a climate or environment related event in South Africa, according to a UNICEF South Africa U-Report poll, released ahead of young people’s day at COP 26 on 05 November.    

Of those impacted, 20 per cent said their home was damaged, 16 per cent stated that their education was disrupted and 14 per cent had limited access to safe water. Air pollution, drought, flooding, and water pollution top the reasons given for the impact.

“Children and young people are clearly already feeling the brunt of the climate crisis and environmental degradation,” said Christine Muhigana, UNICEF South Africa Representative. “That’s why their voices need to be heard and why urgent investment in climate adaption and mitigation efforts is needed to protect the services that children depend upon,” added Muhigana. 

There is optimism that the green economy could provide future employment, with 65 per cent of young people polled stating that the sector would help, 25 per cent were not sure and only 10 per cent said it wouldn’t make a difference. Agriculture, tourism and renewable energy are the three areas identified as being of most interest to young people.

The majority polled also believe that the COP 26 climate talks will make a difference in the climate fight, with only 13 per cent stating that there will be no positive impact. The ‘Just Energy Transition Partnership’, announced on 02 November, between the Government of South Africa, France, Germany, the UK and USA is a critical step forward to support South Africa’s just transition to a low carbon, climate resilient society that promotes employment and livelihoods.

“The futures of South Africa’s children are at stake but there is hope that world leaders will commit to climate action that also strengthens the resilience of essential services that children rely on,” added Muhigana.

To strive towards a healthier environment and future for every child, UNICEF South Africa is calling for three actions:  

  • Include children and young people in all climate-related decisions, according to the 'SA Youth Climate Action Plan’ developed by young people across the country, convened by the Youth Programmes at the South African Institute of International Affairs (Youth@SAIIA).
  • Increase investment in climate adaptation and resilience in key services for children, including water, sanitation and hygiene systems, health and education.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create a just and equitable transition towards an environmentally sustainable and inclusive economy.

UNICEF South Africa is working with partners to support children and young people through:

  • Launching the ‘Yoma Green Challenge’ to engage young people in efforts to preserve and protect the environment through climate-related community tasks.
  • Collaborating with youth volunteers to monitor water quality through a citizen science programme across the country.  
  • Providing young people with access to skills and climate-related livelihood opportunities through Generation Unlimited and the Digital Livelihoods challenge.
  • Installing handwashing facilities in schools where access to safe water is limited.
  • Promoting the ‘Tippy Tap’ challenge where children and young people build simple water-saving handwashing facilities.

Notes to editors:

The climate poll was conducted through UNICEF South Africa’s U-Report platform and received more than 3,600 responses, with 75 per cent of those from young people aged up to 24-years.

U-Report is a platform managed by UNICEF South Africa to encourage youth participation. The platform helps young people to have a voice on issues that matter to them and to access information, tools and services to influence positive social change.

Media contacts

Toby Fricker
Chief of Communication & Partnerships
UNICEF South Africa
Tel: +27 61 418 7486
Sudeshan Reddy
Communication Specialist
UNICEF South Africa
Tel: +27 82 561 3970


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in over 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special efforts on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children everywhere.

Working with a range of partners, UNICEF has had a presence in South Africa since the end of apartheid and continues to work towards bettering the lives of all children in the country.

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