Climate change impacts on the world's children

Climate change: A harsh reality in the future of the world's children.

Climate change: A harsh reality in the future of the world's children.

The heat we experienced in Armidale last summer must surely have persuaded even hardened sceptics that climate change is a reality.

Climate change is associated with an increase in temperatures, hydrologic stress, an increase in extreme weather events, sea level rise, and damage to ecosystems, all of which lead to increased food insecurity.

We often talk about climate change in terms of its long-term impacts on our children, but how much of this impact do we really understand?

Children are more vulnerable to the direct impacts of extreme temperatures and natural disasters. There is evidence that increasing temperatures increase child mortality. The World Health Organisation reports that 80 per cent of the illnesses and deaths associated with climate change are experienced by children.

When increased temperatures are associated with increased humidity, increased pollution and changes in disease vectors, the impact is even more deadly. Even if temperature increases are not deadly, they are associated with decreased productivity and learning: impacts that last a lifetime.

Children are also vulnerable to the indirect impacts of climate change. Changes in the ecosystem for example can lead to exposure to different diseases which can have major implications for children’s health.

Changes in weather patterns lead to changes in food crops and this may result in malnutrition for children living in areas of poverty, (85 per cent of the world’s children today live in developing countries where  poverty is endemic).

Changing weather patterns are resulting in large areas of land becoming unsustainable for agriculture and food production. Even changes in micronutrients can have a substantial impact on children’s health.

I believe we have a moral obligation to improve the world our children will inherit from us and that means we all must show willing to bear the costs today.

These kinds of changes often lead to social upheaval as people struggle for access to more and more limited resources. Famine often leads to conflict and often warfare, themselves associated with increasing famine, disease and economic and social disruption.

In our modern times, children are increasingly at risk in these situations: UNICEF for example identifies children as the main victims of war, with one billion children worldwide currently at major risk of lifetime physical and mental health impairments. These effects cross generations, so significantly impact on the ability of a nation, and a nation’s people, to recover, grow and develop.

Extreme weather events are another outcome of climate change. In 2008, extreme weather displaced 20 million people worldwide.

By 2050, it is estimated that 200 million people will become environmental refugees. The increased risk of natural disasters means children’s education is disrupted, and the psychological stress associated with these traumatic events has a long-term impact on learning.

When disasters limit access to basic services (such as clean drinking water), physical illnesses (diarrhoea, malnutrition) result and the negative impact is compounded.

The Paris Agreement of 2015 is the result of over 20 years of multinational diplomatic negotiations which attempt to address key issues underlying climate change and change practices today in order to improve outcomes for our children. The recent withdrawal of the US from the agreement is positioned by some as providing an opportunity for the private sector to take the lead in an area where government is seen to have failed.

Australia remains committed to the agreement, as do the more than 190 countries who signed and the 146 nations who ratified the deal, countries responsible for about 70 per cent of the world’s emissions.

I believe we have a moral obligation to improve the world our children will inherit from us and that means we all must show willing to bear the costs today. What are you doing in your family to reduce your impact on our climate? 

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