Among the various obstacles to achieving a minimum standard of living for children, an evolving threat is climate change. A recent UNICEF regional report shows that children in East Asia and the Pacific are most at risk.
A recent Climate Vulnerability Monitor report states that over 99 percent of climate change deaths take place in developing countries, and over 80 percent of these are among children. These affects will be disproportionately felt in low-lying countries in the Asia-Pacific region where over half of livelihoods center on agriculture and is exceptionally vulnerable to climate fluctuations.
Matthew McKinnon, Head of the Climate Vulnerability Initiative at DARA International, tells MediaGlobal how the impact of climate change is already evident. “In Asia, Central and South Asia are the most vulnerable regions; in the Pacific, it is the small island developing states. Both areas are affected by more extreme weather, by effects on human health, by sea-level rise, by desertification (especially India and China), by economic damages to the agricultural sector and effects for natural resources, such as water and biodiversity.”
The UNICEF report, Children’s Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Disaster Impacts in East Asia and the Pacific, cites that at the present rate, the region will see a rise in temperature in the range of half a degree to 7 degrees Celsius by 2070. The region’s economic gains in recent decades starkly contrast the persisting gaps in development, home to 60 percent of the global population living below $2 a day.
Geoffrey Keele, Communications Specialist with UNICEF’s East Asia and Pacific Regional Office, explains to MediaGlobal the specific harms children face in light of these changes. “The leading killers of children worldwide are highly sensitive to climate changes,” he says. “For example, higher temperatures have been linked to increased rates of malnutrition, cholera, diarrheal disease and vector-borne diseases like dengue and malaria. Yet children’s underdeveloped immune systems put them at far greater risk of contracting these diseases and succumbing to their complications.”
Keele explains that the rising occurrence of extreme weather events might hamper long-term agricultural production. “This could lead to higher food prices and a corresponding increase in malnutrition rates in a region where one in every four children is already stunted due to poor nutrition.” Moreover, such events may divert children from activities like going to school in order to aid in household tasks or pursue work to earn wages, thus deepening their vulnerability.
The report, however, points out that children as young as 11 are aware of their changing environment and climate. This early understanding can be advantageous in furthering climate-related programs and initiatives. “Research shows that children and youth are strong advocates, helping their families, schools, and communities adapt to climate change,” says Mr. Keele. “Children are often more knowledgeable about climate change impacts than adults, based on information they learn at school or from accessing other media and communication sources.”
Keele describes a disaster-reduction program in Thailand where children were instrumental in drawing up evacuation plans for their schools as well as risk and resource maps for a preparedness plan for the whole community. Such joint efforts can prove fruitful not just for broader climate change preparedness, but also in keeping the needs of children at the forefront of policymaking.
All eyes are now turned toward the Durban Summit to bolster financing and advance the fight against climate change. “We hope that Durban will plug the funding gap between 2013-2019 with explicit developed country commitments for annual increases in climate finance from current levels to progressively attain the $100 billion,” said Mr. McKinnon. He also expressed the need for improved and universal reporting mechanisms that enhance transparency, while raising climate finance dispersal rates to align line with ODA levels.
The Summit’s success is critical to building a viable future for the most vulnerable populations. By engaging children in policy-making, officials can incorporate their needs and knowledge, paving the way for a more secure and sustainable world.