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THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON THE CHILDREN AND THE YOUTH
The history of the scientific discovery of climate change began in the early 19th century and in the late 19th century, scientists first argued that human emissions of greenhouse gases could change Earth's energy balance and climate. Since the 1990s, scientific research on climate change has included multiple disciplines and has expanded. UNICEF’s concerns about climate change started in the 1990s.
In Geneva/New York on 28 August 2023 for the first time, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has explicitly affirmed the children’s right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, issuing comprehensive interpretation of Member States’ obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This Convention, created in 1989 and ratified by 196 states, outlines universal children’s rights such as the right to life, survival and development, and the right to health. A General Comment provides legal guidance on what these rights imply for a specific topic or area of legislation. General Comment No. 26 plays a pivotal role in elucidating the commitment of states as outlined in the Paris Agreement.
Concerning the current situation, roughly one in five global deaths annually occurs in children under the age of five and more than half of these childhood fatalities are attributed to lower respiratory tract infections, diarrhea, and malaria. All three of these disease categories are susceptible to exacerbation due to climate change. At COP 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015, Parties to the UNFCCC reached a landmark agreement to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future. Beside the Paris agreement there is also the European Climate Law. The law sets the intermediate target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.
Climate change can lead to various risks; extreme temperatures that cause recent years to be the hottest on record leaving huge consequences on health, as children adjust more slowly to temperature changes and develop heat-related health risks. Water scarcity and water pollution, deprivation of water consumption which leads to undernutrition can affects both physical and cognitive development, which has implications for the rest of a child’s life. Flooding, rising sea levels as well as storm surges and cyclones, more frequent and intense storms, and melting snow and glaciers leave immediate risks of death and injury and prevent children’s access to essential health care and education. This puts families at higher risk of migration and displacement. Air pollution leaves huge consequences on health, children’s lungs as their immune systems are still developing.
Children are explicitly recognized as stakeholders in the Paris Accord and thus climate change adaptation and mitigation plans need to be child and youth inclusive. As a part of a solution, UNICEF has made a Strategic plan 2022-2025 that is consisted of UNICEF’s unreserved commitment to promoting the rights of all children, everywhere, as stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and guided by the Core Commitments for Children in Humanitarian Action. UNICEF is committed to ensuring a sustainable world and protect the children from the worst impacts of a changing climate and degrading environment. This is done by supporting continuous and environmentally focused education and enhancing ambition of mitigation and adaption approaches for children and youth that are harmed by climate change. Recognizing children as agents of change and providing a platform for them to exchange their views, opinions, concerns as well as identifying solutions and promoting environmentally sustainable lifestyles is important. The participation of children is both a necessity and also part of their fundamental rights by Article 12, Convention on the Rights of the Child. Protecting children from the impacts of climate change will require increased focus and financing on adaptation and increasing the resilience of the services that children depend upon most - such as water, health, education, and nutrition.
- How can UNICEF ensure equitable access to climate education?
- What are unique challenges that children and youth in different regions face due to climate change?
- What role UNICEF can play in promoting climate justice for children and youth?