The climate crisis is upon us, and its severity has been more pronounced in the East Asia and Pacific region. A recent report from UNICEF reveals that climate-related extreme weather events have increased by 6 times on average in the region over the last 50 years.
Floods have increased by 11 times; while landslides have increased by 5 times and storms have increased by 4 times. This is causing a disproportionate impact particularly on children in the region, disrupting access to basic and essential services, such as education, clean water, and health services.
Average global temperatures have already surpassed 1.1ºC above pre-industrial levels. Losses and damage to flora, fauna and human systems will continue to escalate incrementally with average global temperatures.
The East Asia and Pacific region’s unique geography makes it more vulnerable to climate-related weather events. Typhoon Goni which hit the Philippines in 2020 affected over 700,000 children and 69 million people. The 2020 floods in central Vietnam affected 1.5 million people, including an approximate 160,000 children.
Climate crisis mixed with environmental degradation and pollution is creating multiple shocks for the children in the region. Over 140 million children are highly exposed to water scarcity; while over 460 million children are highly exposed to air pollution in the East Asia and Pacific region.
Child rights crisis
The rights of children in the region are being severely impacted by the multiple effects of climate change. It is also an injustice to them on many fronts. They were the least among the society to cause this crisis, but will bear the brunt of the consequences and will also need to shoulder the responsibility of finding the solution to the crisis.
Exhibit 1: Proportion of children facing multiple overlapping climate and environmental shocks, by region
Multiple, overlapping climate and environmental hazards such as coastal flooding, water scarcity, heatwaves, air pollution, riverine flooding, tropical cyclones and vector-borne diseases will have the highest impact on children from the East Asia and Pacific region. Among the countries in the region, South Korea, followed by Vietnam and China, will have the most percentage of children facing 5 or more types of shocks, hazards or stressors.
The increasing frequency of climate hazard events will also increase the likelihood of interrelated shocks, creating compounding impacts and triggering a series of feedback loops.
Exhibit 2: Example of a climate feedback loop
Climate change exacerbates inequalities, particularly for children. Climate-induced weather events such as rising temperatures and extreme weather fuel other stressors such as pandemics and political instability. This leads to a series of cascading effects that drive inequalities, including malnutrition, mental health problems, school absenteeism, early marriage and poor sanitation conditions.
The result? A vicious poverty cycle for vulnerable children and their families who are more likely to face some of the most immediate dangers of climate change.
Exhibit 3: The vicious poverty cycle
Time to take action
Inequalities, if left unchecked, will also make addressing climate change even more challenging. Already, climate change is affecting the health, nutrition, education and well-being of children in numerous ways, particularly in low-income communities.
A climate-resilient child’s profile should address six key dimensions in their lives, as seen in Exhibit 4.
Exhibit 4: What does resilience look like?
Policymakers and governments need to focus on developing key areas of action—outlined in Exhibit 5—to establish a favourable environment for rearing a climate-resilient child. Above all, global leaders need to protect the rights of children and ensure that their voices are heard and acted upon.
Exhibit 5: Key areas of action