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Climate Change and Children: Taking Action to Save Lives

The evidence is indisputable: climate change and environmental degradation, such as air pollution, undermine the rights of every child, especially the most disadvantaged.

What is climate change?

There is overwhelming scientific evidence on the dangers and causes of climate change. Climate change science indicates that because of past and ongoing greenhouse gas emissions, the world’s climate is already changing. Climate change will contribute to rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, and will increase the frequency of droughts, floods and severe weather events.

The impact of climate change on children

Climate change presents numerous challenges to child development, health and well-being, including increased malnutrition through changing agricultural yields and greater risk of disease and death through the higher frequency of extreme weather events. Women and girls, who may face additional social, economic and political barriers and do not have the same access to resources, may be impacted disproportionately. Loss of family livelihoods, migration and family separation following climate-related disasters and changing weather patterns can also leave children exposed to the dangers of exploitation, violence and abuse.

We must act now

We have an opportunity to tackle this crisis before it’s too late. That means taking decisive action to cut greenhouse gas emissions in order to slow, and ultimately stop, the advance of climate change. Protecting the planet and protecting our children go hand-in-hand – and both can be achieved if we all act now.

Action to address global climate change

The most urgent task ahead is for action to halt the advance of climate change and limit global temperature increases by curbing greenhouse gas emissions and prioritizing clean, sustainable energy sources. We must act now to help children and communities in vulnerable countries adapt to current and future climate shocks and to ensure resilience to future challenges.

Emerging economies also need support to pursue low-carbon development and mitigation in order to reduce emissions and carbon footprints. Investments in adaptation and mitigation will provide a more sustainable, safer and cleaner future for current and future generations.

Why sustainable energy matters to children

Renewable and sustainable energy can be a game changer for children. Access to energy is strongly associated with human and economic development and plays a key role in poverty reduction. Many children in low- and middle-income countries still have little access to energy at all and, if they do, it is often unsustainable. Access to sustainable energy provides significant opportunities for improved results for children, especially in terms of their health, education and safety.

Access offers economic opportunities for children’s families and pathways to livelihoods for young people. For example, energy access can provide a series of benefits associated with access to information and communication technologies – such as mobile phones, computers and the internet – which can enhance opportunities for children and young people to communicate, connect, share, learn, and access information. Computer literacy can open the door to higher-level educational and vocational opportunities.

Win-win for children and the climate

Sustainable energy solutions can provide major opportunities in terms of improving children’s health, education, well-being and development. Lighting to do homework at night, reliable transportation to and from school, warmth during the winter months, safe stoves that don't contribute to deadly respiratory issues and well-lit streets for girls and boys tasked with collecting fuel and water are just a few of the ways that sustainable energy can transform children's lives today and into the future.

Low-carbon development is crucial for the future of children and can pave a path to long-term sustainable development without increasing emissions. Low carbon investments can benefit the most disadvantaged children and produce a win-win for children and the climate. With significant future investments in infrastructure and energy, there is tremendous potential.

A role for Canada

UNICEF Canada is pleased that the Government of Canada has prioritized tackling climate change, through ratifying the Paris Climate Agreement, agreed by world leaders during the COP 21 United Nations climate change conference in 2015. This ambitious global agreement seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit an increase in temperature to well below 2°Celsius above pre-industrial levels and goes beyond, committing to the rapid scale-up of global efforts to do even more. The agreement also looks to promote climate-resilient sustainable development, in line with the UN’s 2030 Agenda and the Global Goals, also known as Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, for ‘people, planet and prosperity.’ This will go a long way in protecting children who are the least responsible for climate change, but who will suffer the most from its effects.

We welcome Canada stepping up to support the world's most vulnerable children with a funding commitment of $2.65 billion to address climate change in developing countries. In order to realize this ambitious agenda and build on this leadership, the Government of Canada must now ensure that their investments reach the most vulnerable communities in the least developed countries, particularly children.

A role for UNICEF

UNICEF is committed to building a more sustainable future for children. UNICEF works with global partners to ensure that children and youth input are prioritized in shaping international policies on environmental sustainability and climate change. UNICEF affirms the vital role of children and youth in creating environmental and climate solutions that can be transformed into concrete opportunities and action. UNICEF also works to mobilize governments and the private sector to strengthen their environmental practices to improve the lives of children on the frontlines of climate change and environmental degradation.

UNICEF and environmental sustainability

UNICEF is committed to increase its contribution to environmental sustainability, given both the importance of the issue to children and the global commitment to the Global Goals.

UNICEF is stepping up its efforts to address its environmental footprint and become carbon neutral, including investing in sustainable energy and resource efficient facilities and operations.

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