In Somali region of Ethiopia, near the town of Hargele, a mother and her son displaced by drought walk near the camp where they are staying.
Climate Action

The Climate Crisis and UNICEF: How to Create a Livable Planet for Every Child

Virtually every child is already exposed to disruptive climate hazards. Urgent action is needed to ensure the safety and protection of future generations. An overview of what needs to be done — and what UNICEF is already doing — to address climate change.

The Fight of Our Lives

Even before the release of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change March 2023 report, UNICEF had already resolved to double down on its response to what is by many measures a child rights crisis.

Responding to the latest findings of scientists, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell reiterated UNICEF's position: that climate action must be accelerated to ensure the safety and protection of future generations.

Children plant flowers in the playground outside their school in N’Djamena, Chad.
Children plant flowers in the playground at their school in N’Djamena, Chad. © UNICEF/UN0794851/Dejongh

The world is already experiencing the ravages of climate change: record-breaking drought in the Sahel and Horn of Africa. Catastrophic flooding in Pakistan. Blistering heat waves across parts of Europe and the Middle East.

These events, all linked to and made worse by climate change, are not only deepening existing humanitarian crises in all of these places. They are also unleashing new waves of mass displacement, malnutrition, disease and increasing competition — and provoking conflict within communities, often violent, over scarce resources.

Let us show succeeding generations that when they needed us to fight for their future, we did. — UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell

"World leaders continue to make inadequate promises and slow progress — on emissions reduction, climate finance, adaptation and on strengthening community resilience," Russell said. “About 4.2 billion children are expected to be born over the next 30 years. It is our collective responsibility to make sure they are prepared."

Almost every child on Earth is exposed to at least one type of climate or environmental hazard. Half of the world's children — or about 1 billion children — live in places considered extremely high risk due to climate change impacts.

A youth activist from Zimbabwe participates in a panel discussion about climate change and child rights at a conference in Madrid, Spain.
UNICEF supports young climate activists, helping to ensure that their voices, perspectives and ideas are heard as they demand climate action. Above center, Nkosilathi, a youth activist from Zimbabwe, participates in a panel discussion during the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference (COP 25) in Madrid.  © UNICEF/UNI240662/Herrero

Climate change solutions

UNICEF's climate call to action urges:

  • all parties to "super-charge" efforts to close the emissions gap and accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy
  • governments to adopt climate-resilient development policies and urgently adapt critical social services children rely on — like water and sanitation, health, nutrition, education and child protection — to the new climate reality
  • increased funding for climate adaptation and mitigation; the return on investment in things like early warning systems, climate-resilient water systems and other infrastructure is huge, while a failure to implement national resilience and adaptation plans will likely lead to much greater suffering and loss 
  • increased focus on disaster risk reduction training and "green skills" building — armed with skills such as the ability to gather and interpret climate data and identify and implement climate-friendly technologies, young people will be empowered and better equipped to participate in changing economies and pursue more viable livelihoods

"As climate change intensifies in the coming decades, we expect that the impact on lives, livelihoods, food and water systems will be devastating — and that children will suffer most of all," Russell says. The IPCC report is "a clear call that we must act now to secure a livable and sustainable future for all."

How UNICEF is addressing climate change

UNICEF works with partners in over 190 countries and territories finding ways to advance progress in all four of the above action areas related to climate change and the environment.

A major priority for UNICEF is supporting and empowering children and young people to be climate and environmental champions. This includes ensuring that their voices, perspectives and ideas are heard at the highest levels; providing them with the education and skills they need to be agents of change in their communities; and setting them up to thrive in the future green economy.

Other aspects of UNICEF's climate response include:

  • generating evidence to support smarter, more efficient service delivery
  • helping to build climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable hospitals, schools and water infrastructure
  • working with communities, governments and public and private institutions to improve understanding of climate risks — while also strengthening their capacities for adapting to and/or mitigating those risks across critical systems (health, education, water and sanitation)
  • advocating for decision makers to put children at the center of their climate and environmental policies — and to ensure that those policies are sustainably financed
  • developing and shaping markets, and helping to build new public-private partnerships that can help lessen climate and disaster risks
A man walks through his flooded village in the Nicoadala district, 35 km from Quelimane, Mozambique — an area that suffered severe damage from Cyclone Freddy which made its second landfall on March 11, 2023.
Disaster risk reduction and systems strengthening are top priorities under UNICEF's climate action plan, to help communities better withstand the impacts of extreme weather events like Cyclone Freddy, which slammed Mozambique in March 2023, flooding villages like the one above, in the Nicoadala district near Quelimane. © UNICEF/UN0801979/Zuniga

"The decisions we make and the actions we take are shaping the world our children will inherit," Russell says. "Let us show succeeding generations that when they needed us to fight for their future, we did.”

To learn more, see: A Livable Planet for Every Child: UNICEF's Strategy-at-a-Glance for Climate, Environment, Energy and Disaster Risk (2022-2030).

Help protect children from the impacts of climate change. Take Action Now.

Support UNICEF's efforts to deliver lifesaving support to the world's most vulnerable children. Donate today.


TOP PHOTO: A mother and son take a walk not far from the camp for displaced families outside the town of Hargele, in the Somali region of Ethiopia. Over 1.5 million people in the Horn of Africa have been displaced by severe drought, and child malnutrition rates are soaring, in what is considered one of the worst climate-related disasters in decades. © UNICEF/UN0827358/Ayene. Video edited by Tong Su for UNICEF USA