Nearly half the world's young population — nearly 1 billion children — live in countries where risks to their health and safety due to the effects of climate change are extremely high, countries where children are exposed to serious environmental hazards, shocks and stresses.
Countries across the Horn of Africa are already suffering one of the worst climate disasters on record:
Droughts, floods, wildfires, hurricanes and other extreme weather events related to climate change and global warming are multiplying in frequency and ferocity, endangering communities, creating food insecurity, threatening water supplies and forcing migration — including by unaccompanied children.
In the Caribbean alone, the number of children displaced by extreme weather events has increased six-fold in the past five years.
Nearly 160 million children live in zones vulnerable to high or extremely high drought.
Over 500 million children live in extreme flood zones — breeding grounds to deadly waterborne diseases.
By 2050, it is expected that nearly all the world’s children — more than 2 billion — will be exposed to more frequent heat waves, increasing certain health risks for young children and infants.
And by 2040, 25 million more children will be malnourished due to climate change.
As temperatures rise and seasons become more unpredictable, children are increasingly aware that though they are least responsible for the unfolding environmental crisis, they are the ones who are most threatened by its impact.
As outlined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have the intrinsic right to a safe and clean environment. With activist Greta Thunberg and other youth sounding the alarm, UNICEF is working to amplify their voices while also advocating for more direct youth involvement in climate solutions.
UNICEF understands that children and young people have a key role to play in addressing the global climate crisis, and helps them identify solutions for their communities through education in conservation and sustainability.
“Children are essential actors in responding to the climate crisis," said Gautam Narasimhan, UNICEF Senior Advisor on Climate Change, Energy and Environment. "We owe it to them to put all our efforts behind solutions we know can make a difference, such as reducing vulnerability to disasters, improving the management of water resources and ensuring that economic development does not happen at the expense of [the environment].”
UNICEF helps communities respond to the climate crisis and build back better — working with governments at national and local levels to adapt to climate change and mitigate impacts.
The three pillars of this response are to protect, prepare and prioritize children to secure a safe, sustainable and water-secure future.
Since the early 1990s, UNICEF and partners have supported disaster preparedness and risk reduction programs to make vulnerable communities more resilient.
When disaster strikes, UNICEF focuses on delivering immediate relief to affected children and families, While helping to repair damaged infrastructure and otherwise support recovery, UNICEF also helps communities 'build back better' to prevent further damage and to protect against future impacts.
UNICEF also works with partners to advance innovations that support climate adaptation, such as solar-powered water pumps and the use of satellite imagery to map new sources of ground water. At UNICEF's supply warehouse in Copenhagen, there is a test center for designing and building humanitarian gear such as extreme weather-proof tents to use as temporary shelters and health clinics in emergency settings.
As UNICEF responds to emergencies around the world, it strives for efficiency and effectiveness. One way to do this: using drones to deliver medicine and medical supplies to remote areas, helping to reduce carbon emissions and cut transport time.
Many UNICEF country offices — including in Haiti, India, Jordan and Zimbabwe — run on solar power.
Scientists warn that even if the world is able to achieve specific goals such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it is already too late to reverse some of the worst impacts of climate change.
"From historic flooding in Asia, to deadly droughts in Africa, plus the wildfires and heat waves that swept through India, Europe and North America, it is clear the climate crisis is here and it is having devastating impacts on the well-being of children and young people globally," says Paloma Escudero, UNICEF Director of Communications and Advocacy and head of UNICEF's delegation to COP27, the 2022 UN climate change conference.
"Our children can no longer count on the environmental and social conditions previous generations have been used to. They are being forced to grow in a world that is becoming far more dangerous and uncertain."
In collaboration with — and on behalf of — children and young people everywhere, UNICEF urges world leaders and country governments to:
In November 2022, UNICEF and partners launched the Today and Tomorrow initiative, an innovative financing platform designed to drive resources toward climate resilience, emergency preparedness, disaster response and risk reduction work. For the first three years, the mechanism will be used to direct support to eight cyclone-prone countries: Bangladesh, Comoros, Haiti, Fiji, Madagascar, Mozambique, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
"There is an inherit injustice to this," Escudero says. "Some of the countries least responsible for the climate crisis are the ones ... facing the most frequent and damaging impacts. Children from the poorest communities face the greatest risks ..., and yet often receive the least support."