How many climate disasters will today's children face? Scientists release estimate

Children around the world will face a sharp jump in heat waves, floods and droughts in their lives compared to their grandparents.

Study finds next generation will face many times more heat waves, floods, droughts, crop failures

Children hold placards during a global climate change strike rally in Nicosia, Cyprus, in 2019. Children will, on average, suffer seven times more heat waves and nearly three times more droughts, floods and crop failures due to fast-accelerating climate change, a new report finds. (Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters)

Children around the world will face a sharp jump in heat waves, floods and droughts in their lives compared to their grandparents, researchers said on Monday, with teenagers from Nepal to Australia urging leaders not to turn a blind eye.

Children will, on average, suffer seven times more heat waves and nearly three times more droughts, floods and crop failures due to fast-accelerating climate change, found a report from aid agency Save the Children.

Those in low- and middle-income countries will bear the brunt, with Afghan children likely to endure up to 18 times as many heat waves as their elders, and children in Mali likely to live through up to 10 times more crop failures.

"People are suffering, we shouldn't turn a blind eye... Climate change is the biggest crisis of this era," said Anuska, 15, sharing her experience of more heat waves, intense rain and crop losses in her country, Nepal.

"I'm worried about climate change, about my future. It will almost be impossible for us to survive," she told journalists.

A child sits on a makeshift raft on a flooded road following heavy rainfall in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China, on July 22, 2021. People in low- and middle-income countries will bear the brunt of climate impacts, the study found. (Aly Song/Reuters)

Save the Children did not fully identify Anuska and others who spoke alongside her for protection reasons, it said.

The research, a collaboration between Save the Children and climate researchers at Belgium's Vrije Universiteit Brussel, calculated the lifetime exposure to a range of extreme climate events for children born in 2020 compared to those born in 1960.

On course for at least 2.6 C rise

Also published in the journal Science, the study is based on emissions reduction pledges made under the 2015 Paris climate accord, projecting that global temperatures will rise by an estimated 2.6 to 3.1 degrees Celsius above preindustrial times.

This would have an "unacceptable impact on children," Save the Children said.

"The climate crisis is a child rights crisis at its core," said Inger Ashing, chief executive of Save the Children. "We can turn this around — but we need to listen to children and jump into action. If warming is limited to 1.5 degrees, there is far more hope of a bright future for children who haven't even been born yet."

A boy runs at the bottom of a branch of the Lago Seco, which receives water from the Amazon River, in the city of Manaus, Brazil, in 2015. A severe drought had pushed river levels in Brazil's Amazon region to lows, leaving isolated communities dependent on emergency aid and thousands of boats stranded on parched riverbeds. (Bruno Kelly/Reuters)

The UN climate science panel warned in August that global warming is dangerously close to spiralling out of control and will bring climate disruption globally for decades to come.

National pledges to cut emissions so far are inadequate to limit global temperature rise to "well below" 2 C above preindustrial times, and ideally to 1.5 C, as about 195 countries committed to under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

1.5 C warming limit could make huge difference

Save the Children's report found that, if global warming is kept to 1.5C, additional lifetime exposure of newborns to heat waves would drop by 45 per cent and by nearly 40 per cent for droughts and floods compared with the current projected level.

"This is what's at stake when governments head to the COP26 global climate talks in Glasgow in November. These children's lives and future are all at stake," said Erin Ryan, a report author and Save the Children adviser.

WATCH | How teen activists are demanding adults' attention:

How teen activists are demanding adults' attention | The Weekly with Wendy Mesley

3 years ago
Duration 13:03
Greta Thunberg attracted hundreds of thousands of students and adults to the streets of Montreal to demand more action on climate change. Thunberg uses social media to mobilize fellow activists and supporters all over the world. The Weekly takes a deep dive into how this generation of youth activists is different from those of the past.

Children from the Philippines to the Solomon Islands spoke of how increasing climate disasters left them vulnerable, affecting their mental health and disrupting their education.

"I was traumatized — it was really depressing," said Chatten from the Philippines, who was just eight when his home was destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, one of the most powerful tropical cyclones in history, which killed more than 6,300 people.

"Everything was at its worst during those times — I don't want anyone to experience that," said the teenager, now 16.

Others said youth should pressure governments for change.

"I really want to see world leaders take action, because this is putting everyone at risk," said Ella, 14, from Australia.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?