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The future of our children is inextricably linked to the fate of this world. And the fate of this world now rests on the swiftness of our action against the threats posed by the climate change.
Presently, world over, children are paying an enormous price for climate change. Exacerbating the impact of problems like flooding, heatwaves, pollution, droughts and diseases etc., it has put a question mark on the sustainability of our planet for the future generations.
Time is slipping away, and we need to address this issue.
Multiple solutions are indeed possible.
Let’s take a deep dive into the topic.
What is the scale of the issue?
The scale of the issue can be understood from the following:
As per UNICEF, one billion children — almost half of all kids on Earth — are at extremely high risk to climate impacts.
As per the World Economic Forum (WEF), a child born now faces 6.8 times more heatwaves, 2.6 times more drought and 2.8 times more floods and crop failures than a person born in 1960.
As per UN findings,
– 90% of the global burden of disease linked to climate change is borne by children under five.
– 90% of children globally are exposed to air pollution, caused by the combustion of fossil fuels.
920 million children (over 30% of children globally) are highly exposed to water scarcity. This will intensify as climate change increases water stress, droughts and competition for water
What are the impacts of climate change on children?
There are direct and indirect impacts.
Direct impacts –
– Extreme heat is a direct impact. Children are least able to cope with heatwaves.
– Flooding: Fast-moving waters dangerously impact children — adults cannot effectively protect small children in such floods. With sea levels rising and the intensification of cyclones, worldwide flooding will exacerbate. The effects could be particularly harmful for children in developing nations and children of poorer communities in wealthy countries.
– Air pollution can significantly impact cognitive development in children and generate respiratory diseases like asthma.
India has the added challenge of dust blowing around from land use changes, including deforestation and agriculture.
– Reduction in crop yields: Children, the most vulnerable parts of a population, are most likely to be exposed to reductions in crop yields due to variable precipitation. For instance: Monsoon in India could see an increase in average precipitation during the monsoon but further drying after it. Changes around the edges of the monsoon season could be harmful to crop yields by decreasing moisture. In the middle of the monsoon, there could be increased flooding, which can also destroy crops. This can impact food availability, prices and security, impacting children, particularly from poorer communities.
– Health impacts: Climate can alter child health even before a child is born. Heat and air pollution can increase premature births, which are associated with multiple childhood health issues.
– Diseases: Climate change is also driving vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue, which affect children.
Indirect impacts –
– Poverty: Currently, 82.4 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide, due to climate conflicts over land, water and food. Their children have lost a home of dignity and peace. These children face working like adults to survive, their lost education locking them into endemic poverty.
– Psychological: Damage to historical monuments will result in a loss of aesthetic value and continuity in cultures. This will impact psychological well-being. Such losses are likely to be intensified over coming decades; and children, growing up in a world where there isn’t much that is stable to hang onto, can be damaged by this.
It is a vicious cycle wherein the poor are not only disproportionately affected by climate change, but are also left poorer than before due to the climate change itself.
India is home to 32 of the world’s 40 most polluted cities but while wealthier households can buy air purifiers and stay indoors, poorer households and their children simply cannot.
What is the way forward?
– Educating children: Children should be made aware of the fact that more climate change is likely to happen before the situation gets better. Simultaneously, they also need to be given a sense of hope that the situation can be improved. Further, they must be educated about the importance of the environment they live in.
– Participation of children: Children should participate in the process of building a society that is stable and secure from a climate point of view.
– Resource deployment by the community: As a community, people should deploy resources to protect the vulnerable and press public services for more mitigations. India could do a very good job of opening community centers, like in the US, to shield its most vulnerable from harsh climate impacts.
– Realizing its solar potential: India has amazing solar energy resources. With initiatives like GGI-OSOWOG, India is now not only realizing its solar potential but also aiming for a more leadership role in the process.
– Health initiatives: Health policies must be centered around advocacy of sustainable lifestyles. Also, health benefits of climate action in India are actually significantly higher than other places. As per Harvard School of Public Health study, a solar panel or a wind turbine in India can save 30 times more lives because by using renewable energy, one can reduce associated pollution impacts right away.
– Political initiative: We need leaders who can make investments in solutions which they won’t get credit for because the benefits will come later. Every country requires leaders who can put their self-interest aside.
We must foster more holistic connections between humans and nature that include various forms of sustainable use with aesthetic and cultural values. For this to happen, we must begin with children and the values which they internalize from childhood.
– Other measures: Mitigations include sustainable water use, regenerative agriculture, protecting mangroves, urban greens and wetlands, reducing fossil fuel combustion and adopting renewable energy swiftly.
A healthy planet will automatically mean healthier children. Moreover, as it is often said:
‘We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children’
It is high time when we realize the gravity of these words and ensure that we leave our world a better place to live in.