Climate change risks health, safety of more than 1.2 billion young people – COP26

NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 10 – Almost all of the current generation of 1.2 billion adolescents aged 10-19 are exposed to at least one climate and environmental hazard, shock or stress – heat waves, cyclones, air pollution, flooding and water scarcity, delegates were told at a Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH)-led side event at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow.

Failure to avert a global rise in temperature of just 1.5°C will put their health and prospects for survival at extreme risk.

According to current national emission reduction pledges, today’s young generations’ face up to a seven-fold increase in adverse weather events during their lifetime compared to those born in the 1960s.

Exposure to extreme climate-related weather events increases the risk of forced migration, reduces access to good nutrition, education and employment, and threatens to jeopardize the physical and mental health of the world’s future adults.

At 16% of the global total, the current adolescent population is the largest in the world with more than a billion people under 18 living in countries at extremely high risk of climate change, meaning that their survival is significantly threatened.

-Effects of climate change to the young people-

Adolescents and youth bear no responsibility for the climate change emergency, yet they will face its harshest consequences if the world fails to rapidly reverse rising trends.

In the ongoing PMNCH discussions at the COP26 in Glasgow, it was established that climate change affects children’s and adolescents’ physical health by increasing their risk of injury and lung disease, and susceptibility to infectious diseases and poor nutrition.

It also raises the risk of mortality and disability due to unintentional injury (the leading cause of death and disability among adolescents) caused by more extreme weather events.

Girls are more likely to be killed during such disasters as they are often prevented from learning survival skills, such as swimming or climbing.

As well as adverse physical health outcomes, climate change is having an impact on adolescents’ and young people’s psychological well-being.

“Adolescents are known to experience significant increases in rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression following a climate related disaster,” the PMNCH stated.

“These outcomes are major risk factors for suicide, the third leading cause of death in older adolescents aged 15-19. Some have developed eco-anxiety and climate anxiety, both of which specifically refer to the fears of future environmental disasters.”

A high proportion of those displaced in the context of climate change disasters are young people.

Around 40% of the 79.5 million forcibly displaced people in 2019 were under the age of 18. Girls are particularly disadvantaged and are also more likely to be removed from school during climate-related events.

“When these events occur, young women are more likely to drop out of school, be victim to sexual and physical violence when living in temporary shelters, and they disrupt access to reproductive health services that young women rely on,” said Natalie Mangondo, of Southern Africa Climate Finance Partnership, Zimbabwe.

The event aimed to draw attention to the importance of incorporating adolescent well-being into the COP26 Health Program, and in national climate adaptation policies and programs, stated that the emission reduction pledges made by countries ahead of COP26 are not enough to avert global temperatures rising beyond 1.5°C, which will inevitably lead to greater exposure to extreme weather events.

“At COP26, world leaders must recognize that climate change will have its greatest impact on the well-being of this and future generations of adolescents, and commit to do immediately everything in their power to respond to this rapidly deteriorating situation,” Chair, PMNCH Adolescents and Youth Constituency, David Imbago-Jácome said.

“They must also recognize adolescents’ and young people’s right to play an active role in programming, monitoring, holding leaders accountable and deciding for themselves the appropriate remedies and actions that will protect their own well-being, and the well-being of their communities.”

The statement acknowledges that engaging with young people is critical to attaining global health and development goals. This includes ensuring they are properly consulted on any policies, programs or guidelines that impact on their well-being.

“As the world now stands on the brink of an irreversible tipping point, the need to engage with and involve the generation that will be most affected by climate change cannot be overstated enough,” said Julieta Martinez, founder of Tremendas, Chile. “It is not just about involving young people. We are sad and anxious about the climate crisis and demand bold action now by designing real initiatives which engage young people and ensure accountability of leaders’ pledges.”

Environmental NGO Network (CENN), Anuki Mosiashvili noted that recognition of adolescents’ role as agents for change and an acknowledgment of their right to fully participate in the development of the policies and interventions that place their resilience at the centre of the climate adaptation agenda should be a key outcome of COP26.

“The global and national leaders need to invest in meaningful adolescence and youth participation in decision making about climate adaptation,” said Mosiashvili. “We are the ones who will experience the adverse effects of climate change for all our lifetime. That is why we deserve to have a voice in the processes that directly concern our future. Young people ask for more accountability. Young people ask for true commitment. And young people ask for the space to speak up.”

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