Climate change affects children first and worst
he children, are often said to be the future of any country. Rightly so, especially in the case of Pakistan, which has a population of 92 million under the age of 18. Yet very little has been done to protect and secure their future. Climate change is one of the top threats facing children in Pakistan. It affects their health, nutrition, education and prosperous future. They are less able to survive extreme weather events and are more susceptible to diseases, temperature changes and disasters.
As world leaders met for the 27th time in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, for the UN Conference of Parties, very little progress had been made to protect and safeguard the rights of children and the youth across the globe. The UNICEF has been ringing alarm bells for many years over the constant harm and abuse the children suffer. It is especially true in the context of the Global South, where there is an increased risk of physical and environmental threats to children’s well-being.
A crucial step in the right direction would be enhancing and accelerating the measuring of children’s risks. This past week, Children Climate Risk Index (CCRI) was unveiled in Egypt. Pakistan is ranked 14th out of 163 on the list of countries where children are most at risk. The report combines new evidence and data on children’s vulnerability to climate and environmental hazards. Children are often caught in a vicious cycle of increasing exposure and vulnerability and face an increase in their overall risk.
Not only do climate and environmental hazards negatively affect children’s access to food, water, shelter and education, these also reduce their resilience and adaptive capacity. Thus, a vicious cycle is created that pushes children and young people below the poverty line. At the same time, this increases the risk of climate change fatality. Every day, around 90 percent of children breathe air that is so polluted that it puts their development and health at risk. A 2018 study shows that children exposed to high pollution may be at greater risk of chronic diseases later in life.
Pollution is also causing stunting of brains and growth in young children, and pregnant women are more likely to give birth prematurely. It also impacts neurodevelopment and cognitive ability and can trigger asthma and childhood cancer. As Lahore and Karachi top the Air Quality Index, it shouldn’t be surprising that 98 percent of the children get exposed to PM2.5 levels, many folds the regulatory health guidelines.
The climate crisis is changing our world fundamentally. It is a child-rights crisis, affecting children first and worst with often widening inequalities and vulnerabilities. Children across the world have inherited a problem that is not their doing. Yet they are most vulnerable to its disastrous effects. Investing in children is also economically sound because they will grow up knowing the root causes of the climate crisis and adapting to its impacts.
Children are ringing alarm bells on the climate crisis and how it’s impacting them. How urgent is the need for us to act, and how do children want to be involved in finding solutions are some important questions. At COP 27, a children and youth pavilion was introduced. It is serving as a centre-piece for young people to demand a just tomorrow, where their rights are safeguarded and protected.
In 2007, a fourth grader, hearing about the work of Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai, started a tree-planting campaign with his friends. Billions of trees have been planted by now as a part of the campaign. Today, young Pakistanis like Emaan and Ayisha are leading the climate movements at international forums.
The writer is a climate justice ambassador at Plant-for-the-Planet Initiative and a training facilitator at The Climate Fresk. He is also part of the Climate Science, Global Shaper and Climate Reality Community