In the first 10 months of 2022, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Europe each recorded record-shattering heat, bringing on droughts and out-of-control wildfires. Prolonged, severe heat suffocated parts of China, Pakistan, and India, while the UK broke its temperate record at over 40 degrees Celsius. 

Greenland’s iconic ice sheet, meanwhile, recorded its own “mini heatwave.”

Scientists globally agree: These heatwaves are undeniably compounded by human-induced climate change. 

The catastrophic year of extreme heat has seen activists again lay hope that the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP27, will spur real change. The UN climate talks — held in Egypt from Nov. 6 to Nov. 18 — will see government representatives, charities, and NGOs unite to deliberate on how best to defend the planet.

In the lead-up to the event, the ​​United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) released a report that urges decision-makers to listen to young people and prioritize their unique needs. The report talks explicitly about how the “climate crisis is a children’s crisis” and why the actions taken today will determine the fate of millions of young people.

"The children who are least responsible for climate change are bearing its biggest costs,” UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and climate activist Vanessa Nakate says in the forward of the important report. “We must ensure that countries where children are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change have the resources needed to adapt and the critical social services required to protect them.”

Read some of the biggest takeaways from the report below. 

1. In 2020, 1 in 3 Children Lived With Extreme High Temperatures

In 2020, around 740 million children — approximately 1 in 3 globally — lived in countries where temperatures exceed 35 degrees Celsius for 80 days in the year. Just under 600 million youth were likewise exposed to high heatwave frequency — a term used to refer to an average of 4.5 or more heatwaves per year. 

Three other measures — heatwave duration, heatwave severity, or extreme temperatures — impacted 624 million youth.

According to UNICEF, the impacts of extreme heat on children are multifaceted but broadly fall into two categories: risks to health and well-being, and social and educational impacts. High temperatures, UNICEF explains, affect mental and emotional health, access to food and water, education, safety, and livelihoods. 

"Heatwaves exacerbate drought, causing crop failure and food insecurity, with severe impacts on child nutrition, particularly in communities that depend on agriculture,” the report reads. “Heatwaves lead to poor health and nutrition in children and are linked to lower achievement in school and lower school attendance.”

2. By 2050, Virtually Every Child on Earth Will Face More Frequent Heatwaves

Currently, 1 in 4 children live in areas where an average heatwave lasts longer than four days. 

This figure is set to skyrocket to 3 in 4 children by 2050, even if the world is to limit global warming to 1.7 degrees Celsius, a predicament UNICEF labels a “low emission scenario.” In the alternative “high emission scenario,” in which the world warms by 2.4 degrees, 94% of children will be exposed. 

High heatwave severity — where the average heatwave event is 2 degrees Celsius or more above the local 15-day average — will impact 100 million children in the low emission scenario (against 28 million currently) and an astounding 212 million children in the high emission scenario. 

Africa will be home to the highest rate of youth enduring high heatwave frequency by 2050.

What the World Must Do to Help

1. Protect Children From Climate Devastation by Adapting Social Services

UNICEF has outlined four key pillars that countries worldwide must acknowledge if the education, livelihoods, and health of children are to be protected. Firstly, UNICEF calls on governments to adapt critical services like water and sanitation initiatives and health care systems to ensure they can withstand climate change and environmental crises. 

2. Prepare Children to Live in a Climate Changed World

Each nation must ensure its youngest citizens are equipped with climate change and disaster risk education. Youth must also be empowered to use their climate change education in policy-making summits, with UNICEF urging COP27 organizers to ensure children can meaningfully participate and influence action plans.

3. Prioritize Children and Young People in Climate Finance and Resources

At last year’s COP26 conference in Glasgow, developed nations agreed to double the funding spent on climate adaptation to around $40 billion per year by 2025, with the ultimate goal of delivering at least $300 billion annually by 2030. These agreements must be fulfilled, UNICEF writes, while this year’s conference should build on “loss and damage” plans — a term that relates to funding the recovery of climate impacts like extreme storms and droughts, especially in the most vulnerable nations. 

4. Prevent Climate Catastrophe by Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Keep 1.5°C Alive

All governments must increase the ambition of their climate policies. Wealthy G20 countries must spearhead efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 45% by 2030 and keep heating to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsuis, while all countries must accelerate the transition to renewable energy.

The report says that subsidies on fossil fuels must end, and unexpected profits from fossil fuel producers must be redirected to the vulnerable.


Defend the Planet

94% of All Children Will Face More Extreme Heat by 2050 Unless We Act Now: Report

By Madeleine Keck