FACT SHEET: COP26 - Children and climate change

02 November 2021
“The way out of the climate and ecological crisis is collective. Hope is in the movement that we know how to build”, Nicole Becker, Argentina

GLASGOW, 1 November 2021 – UNICEF will be at COP26 to ensure that the climate crisis is recognized as a crisis for children and their rights, to promote approaches to decrease climate risk for those who are most vulnerable, and to support children and young people’s participation in COP26 as part of efforts to support children and young people’s participation in climate-related decision-making.

“COP26 must be the COP for children,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing this generation, with 1 billion children at extremely high risk. Yet, while the outlook is dire, world leaders at COP26 have a significant, time-sensitive opportunity to redirect the terrible path we are on. They can do so by committing to strengthening the resilience of services that children depend upon, and by cutting emissions faster and deeper. The futures of billions of children depend on it.”

Key Messages:

The climate crisis is a child rights crisis. 

  • Climate change poses a major threat to children and young people’s health, nutrition, education, development, survival and future potential. Compared to adults, children require more food and water per unit of their body weight, are less able to survive extreme weather events, and are more susceptible to toxic chemicals, temperature changes and diseases, among other factors.
  • Critically, current and future generations of children will have to navigate an uncertain future where the current model of growth that links economic development to environmental exploitation is no longer viable.

Children in communities that have contributed the least to global emissions will face the greatest impacts of climate change. Building the resilience of social services that these children will depend upon is critical to reduce the risks they will face. Some important facts about children and climate:

  • An August UNICEF report, The Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI), found almost every child on earth is exposed to at least one climate and environmental hazard, such as heatwaves, cyclones, air pollution, flooding and water scarcity.
  • Approximately 1 billion children – nearly half the world’s children - live in 33 countries classified in the Index as “extremely high-risk”. These children face a deadly combination of exposure to multiple climate and environmental shocks with a high vulnerability due to inadequate essential services, such as water and sanitation, healthcare and education.
  • An estimated 850 million children – over one third of all children – live in areas where at least four of climate and environmental shocks overlap, and as many as 330 million children live in areas affected by a staggering five major climate shocks.
  • Children from countries that contribute the least to climate change suffer the greatest consequences. The 33 extremely high-risk countries collectively emit 9 per cent of CO2 emissions. The 10 highest-risk countries collectively emit only 0.5 per cent of global emissions.
  • Improving the resilience of key services that children depend upon is often the best investment to reduce the risks they face.
    • Access to resilient water, sanitation and hygiene services reduces risks for 415 million children.
    • Climate-smart health services reduce risks for 460 million children.
    • Resilient schools and education systems reduce risks for 275 million children.
    • And climate-responsive social safety nets reduce risks for 310 million children.

Action at COP26 is imperative. UNICEF is calling on governments to:

  • Increase investment in climate adaptation and resilience.
    • UNICEF urges developed countries to exceed their 2009 promise to mobilize $US100 billion annually in climate finance in light of evidence that these sums are insufficient to address the scale of climate impacts. UNICEF urges a greater emphasis on funding to build climate resilience and adaptive capacity.
    • Mitigation efforts will take decades to reverse the impacts of climate change, and for the children of today, this will be too late. Unless we invest heavily in adaptation and resilience of social services for the 4.2 billion children born over the next 30 years, these children will face increasingly high risks to their survival and well-being.
    • Critical services must be adapted, such as water, sanitation and hygiene systems, health and education services.
    • It is imperative that, at COP26, countries commit to increasing investment in climate adaptation and resilience in key services for children, prioritising the most vulnerable and marginalized groups. The decisions made at COP26 will shape the lives of every child in every nation on earth, now and in the future.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
    • UNICEF is urging countries to cut their emissions by at least 45 per cent (compared to 2010 levels) by 2030 to keep warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
    • Governments are woefully off track to meet this goal, with the UNFCCC warning existing climate mitigation targets could lead to a temperature rise of about 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. For every fraction of a degree of warming, scientists say more extreme heat waves, floods and droughts can be expected.
    • The number of children that UNICEF estimates to be at ‘extremely high-risk’ of the impacts of climate change will likely increase as the impacts of climate change accelerate.
  • Include young people in all climate negotiations and decisions.
    • UNICEF supports young people’s calls for governments to end the consistent omission of young people, especially those from the most affected places.
    • Young people continue to demand comprehensive, bold climate action from decision makers. As yet, the action demanded has not materialized to the levels required.
    • Children and young people are underrepresented in policies and policy discussions despite being the major stakeholder in their outcomes. They are therefore limited in their ability to influence decisions that are critical to their future.
    • Children’s rights and voices must be reflected and included in the implementation of the Paris Agreement at national, regional and international levels. COP26 presents a critical opportunity to formalise this. 2022 will mark 30 years since the UNFCCC Convention was drafted and yet in that time, there has never been a decision focused on children and young people in climate action taken under the UNFCCC.
    • Every government must provide climate education for children and young people so that they can meaningfully contribute to and participate in climate policy and action.

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Notes to Editors

Spokespeople in Glasgow:

  • Gautam Narasimhan, 1-6 November (UNICEF Global Lead on Climate, Energy & Environment
  • Silvia Gaya, 1-8 November (UNICEF senior adviser on Water, Sanitation & Hygiene)
  • Valentina Otmacic, 9-12 November (UNICEF Deputy Director of Advocacy)

We are also working with more than 20 youth climate advocates/activists including from countries worst affected by climate change. Many are attending COP26, while others are available for interviews from their communities about the climate crisis there. Interviews can be done in English and Spanish.

Media contacts

Sema Hosta
Chief of Communication
UNICEF in Türkiye
Tel: + 90 312 454 10 10


UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

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