Climate change would kill hundreds of millions of children without immediate action: UNICEF

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Pacific Islands
Children run through the village of Betio on South Tarawa in the central Pacific island nation of Kiribati May 23, 2013. Kiribati consists of a chain of 33 atolls and islands that stand just metres above sea level, spread over a huge expanse of otherwise empty ocean. With surrounding sea levels rising, Kiribati President Anote Tong has predicted his country will likely become uninhabitable in 30-60 years because of inundation and contamination of its freshwater supplies. Picture taken May 23, 2013. Reuters/David Gray

Though dangerous conditions, like droughts, floods and severe weather, may put every individual at risk, children tend to experience most of the effects, the UNICEF warns. A new report shows that climate change may put lives, health, safety and futures of children at immediate and prolonged risks.

Climate change could promote more droughts, floods, heatwaves and other severe weather conditions. These events could cause death and devastation across the world, and potentially boost the spread of major killers of children, including malnutrition, malaria and diarrhoea.

The UNICEF report shows that 530 million children are living in areas extremely prone to high floods, with 300 million living in countries experiencing poverty. There are also 160 million children in high drought severity areas.

Majority of children in areas at high risk of floods are in Asia, while the majority of those at risk of experiencing drought are in Africa.

Climate change was already determined by UN agencies in the Pacific as the biggest threat to children and their families. In the Pacific region, rare events are becoming normal.

Huge number of people across Polynesia and parts of Melanesia are suffering from droughts. Malnutrition has been reported in Vanuatu and in Papua New Guinea, which has already caused deaths of infants and children.

UNICEF believes that these events are linked with the effects of a harsh El Nino season, caused by long term impacts of climate change. The report was released ahead of the 21st United Nations climate change conference, or COP21.

Immediate actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could help limit the number of children at risk from the severe impacts of climate change.

“The sheer numbers underline the urgency of acting now,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. "And, as is so often the case, disadvantaged communities face the gravest threat.”

The report suggests reducing carbon emissions to zero by the latter half of the century. This could potentially limit the global temperature increase to 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

However, Pacific Island countries are calling for further actions to limit global temperatures to 1.5°C. Pacific countries, especially those low-lying islands, are considered by experts as extremely vulnerable to impacts of climate change, threatened to be swamped by the increasing sea levels.

UNICEF is calling for increased pledges by governments to reduce emissions to fight climate change. Reducing carbon emissions will require countries to prioritise low carbon development, expanding sustainable energy solutions and adopting a strong legal framework with clear rules.

“We know what has to be done to prevent the devastation climate change can inflict. Failing to act would be unconscionable,” Lake said. “We owe it to our children – and to the planet – to make the right decisions at COP21.”

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