Virtually all children on Earth will face more frequent heat waves by 2050 | Climate crisis

The climate crisis is also a child rights crisis: one in four children worldwide is already affected by the climate emergency and by 2050 virtually all children in all regions will face heat waves more frequent, according to a new UNICEF report.

For hundreds of millions of children, heat waves will also last longer and be more extreme, increasing the threat of death, disease, hunger and forced migration.

The findings come less than a fortnight before the Cop27 climate talks start in Egypt, and after a catastrophic year of extreme weather events – heat waves, storms, floods, fires and droughts – have demonstrated the speed and l magnitude of climate degradation facing the world. planet.

According to Unicef, 559 million children currently experience at least four to five dangerous heat waves a year, but the number will quadruple to 2 billion by 2050 – even if global warming is reduced to 1.7 degrees, currently the best scenario on the table.

Area chart showing the increase in the number of children exposed to frequent heat waves from 2020 to 2050.

In the worst case – a 2.4 degree rise caused by burning too many fossil fuels for too long – an estimated 94% of children will be exposed to prolonged heat waves of at least 4.7 days of by 2050, compared to one in four children today. . In this climate nightmare, only small areas of South America, Central Africa, Oceania and Asia will escape dangerously long heat waves.

Children and infants are less able to regulate their body temperature, making them more vulnerable to the widespread effects of extreme and prolonged heat than adults. This includes a myriad of health issues such as asthma, cardiovascular disease, and even death.

Additionally, as intense heat exacerbates drought, it can also reduce access to food and water, which can stunt development and increase exposure to violence and conflict if families are forced to migrate. Studies have also shown that extreme heat negatively affects children’s concentration and learning abilities.

“While the full force of the climate crisis will take some time to materialize, for heatwaves it is just around the corner and looks incredibly bleak,” said environment and climate expert Nicholas Rees. climate at UNICEF.

UNICEF report, The coldest year of the rest of their lives is a call to action for political leaders who continue to dither and pander to big business interests, even as the past seven years were the hottest on record.

From the polar regions to the tropics, dangerous heat waves are increasing in frequency, duration and magnitude, and are already killing almost half a million people every year.

This year alone, heatwaves in China have dried up rivers and damaged crops, while temperatures hit 48C (118F) in Pakistan before record rains left a third of the country in the cold. water. Record temperatures across Europe led to tens of thousands of preventable deaths and drastically reduced crop yields, while more than 100 million Americans were subject to heat advisories over the summer.

Three barbell graphs showing the increase from 2020 to 2050 in the percentage of children exposed to frequent, longer and more severe heat waves.

The warmer the planet, the more catastrophic the consequences.

Unicef ​​researchers looked at potential exposure to three measures of heat – duration, severity and frequency – based on two greenhouse gas scenarios used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Evolution climate for climate models. They found:

  • In 2020, there were around 740 million children in 23 countries where temperatures exceeded 35°C (95°F) for at least 84 days. In the worst case, this figure will rise to 816 million children living in 36 countries, mainly in Asia and Africa. In such heat, daily activities like play and school are compromised, and more children are getting sick or dying.

  • Children in Europe will be the most exposed to severe heat waves by 2050 – one in three in the best case, two in three in the worst. In the Americas, exposure to severe heat waves will increase fivefold, from 13 million to 62 million children in 2050.

  • By 2050, 5-8 million children will be exposed to all three measures of high heat, up from none in 2020.

Given that within three decades virtually all children will be exposed to extreme heat even under the best fossil fuel reduction commitments, Unicef ​​is calling on governments to cut emissions faster and further and help communities prepare for what’s to come.

“We need to increase funding for adaptation because the impact depends on the adaptive capacities of families and communities… Having access to shelter, water and air conditioning will mean life or death,” said Rees.

Advocates also urge world leaders at COP27 to listen to young people and prioritize their needs in negotiations next month.

“The climate shocks of 2022 have sounded the alarm about the growing danger ahead,” said Vanessa Nakate, climate activist and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. “Unless world leaders at Cop27 take action to correct the trajectory we are on, heat waves will become even harsher than they already are.

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