Climate Change | UNICEF USA


This is the first time a global generation of children will grow up in a world made far more dangerous as a result of climate change and environmental degradation

  • Nearly 160 million children live in zones vulnerable to high or extremely high drought; by 2040, 25 million more children will be malnourished due to climate change
  • Approximately 300 million children are breathing toxic air; 600,000 children under 5 die every year from resulting pneumonia and other respiratory problems
  • Over 500 million children live in extremely high flood occurrence zones, breeding grounds to deadly waterborne diseases
  • Nearly 90 percent of those who fall ill as a result of climate change are under age 5

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 of unaccompanied children). In the Caribbean alone, the number of children displaced by extreme weather events has increased six-fold in the past five years.

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.

Children can be empowered as agents of change

As outlined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have the intrinsic right to a safe and clean environment. In September 2019, when environmental activist Greta Thunberg and other children of all ages sounded the alarm on climate change, UNICEF heeded their distress and amplified their message.

Understanding the key role children and young people play in addressing the global climate crisis and their futures, UNICEF elevates their voices through advocacy 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 environmental sustainability.”

UNICEF is helping communities respond to the climate crisis and build back better

UNICEF is helping communities become more extreme-weather resilient, providing relief to disaster-affected victims and preventing further environmental damage through sustainable policies and practices.

UNICEF works to ensure that health, sanitation and protection supplies and services are on the ground to bring relief to communities as quickly as possible. In fact, UNICEF operates the world's largest humanitarian supply warehouse, and its network can ship lifesaving supplies to anywhere within 48—72 hours. The supply warehouse is also home to an innovation center that tests and builds humanitarian gear, such as tents that can survive extreme weather and serve as temporary shelter and health facilities in emergency settings. 

However, UNICEF does not only provide relief. It also helps communities build back better. Working with government and partners, UNICEF tackles long-term, intergenerational issues brought on by the climate crisis. 

Program highlight

In 2019, UNICEF teamed up with Conceptos Plásticos to build the first school made entirely from recycled plastic. This was done in Côte d'Ivoire — a country where schools are chronically over capacity and where pollution is a serious environmental issue and a public health hazard (the Abidjan metropolitan area itself produces 288 tons of plastic waste every day). The bricks that make up the school are 100 percent plastic, 40 percent cheaper, 20 percent lighter, fire-resistant, wind-resistant, waterproof, insulated and quicker to assemble than traditional bricks. In addition to this project being environmentally beneficial, it also helps the economy by increasing job opportunities and, more importantly, gets kids back in school. Dozens of classrooms have been built, hundreds of tons of plastic have been recycled and thousands of children are receiving an education because of these schools. UNICEF is expanding this project further, constructing more green schools across the country and globe. Learn more about this work.

In Toumodi-Sakassou, Côte d'Ivoire, students play outside their school. The school is constructed entirely from bricks made of recycled plastic in a UNICEF and Conceptos Plásticos green initiative. © UNICEF/UNI280302/Dejongh

UNICEF is responding to crises while reducing its own footprint

Even as UNICEF responds to the worst disasters, it does so conscientiously without compromising efficiency and effectiveness.

UNICEF is expanding its fleet of drones to help deliver crucial medical tests and supplies to remote areas. Not only do drones increase accessibility, but they also help reduce carbon emissions and cut transport times from 1.5 hours driving to 25 minutes flying.

Further, UNICEF is an expert in harnessing the power of the sun, from using and providing solar-powered vaccine carriers, water pumps, study lamps and more. These tools are especially valuable in areas with limited or no electricity. An increasing number of UNICEF offices are running on solar power, including in Jordan, Zimbabwe and India, with the Haiti office generating 100 percent of its power from the sun.

Time is running out

There are about 10 years left to make the necessary changes to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

"A child born today will face challenges that the children of 20 years ago did not face," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore. "Climate change is threatening their futures as it threatens our planet. Fires, floods, air pollution, heat stress, destroyed crops, water and food insecurity. The effects of a warming planet hit children first and worst."

Since the early 1990s, UNICEF and partners have supported disaster preparedness and risk reduction programs to make vulnerable communities more resilient. UNICEF works with partners around the world to identify and implement affordable, scalable solutions that will help curb the impact of climate change and ensure a cleaner, more sustainable world for the next generation.

Help UNICEF scale its environmental work to protect children's futures by funding programs.