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UNICEF launches the ‘Children’s Climate Risk Index’ ranking countries based on climate risk from a Child’s perspective

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UNICEF recently launched the ‘Children’s Climate Risk Index’ ranking countries based on climate risk from a Child’s perspective. As per the report, 33 countries where children are at ‘extremely high risk’ according to CCRI emit only about 9.4% of the global greenhouse gas emissions (CO2). Here is a review. 

Ahead of the November 2021 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, the UNICEF launched a new report titled ‘The climate crisis is a child rights crisis’, in collaboration with ‘Fridays for Future’ which is a youth-led global climate strike movement. The report is the first comprehensive report on climate risk from a child’s perspective. Though it is already known that children are more vulnerable to climate and environmental shocks as compared to adults, how many children and which geographical areas are more at risk has been calculated in the report using data on essential services. For this, a new composite index, the ‘Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI)’ has been introduced which uses data to generate new global evidence on how many children are currently exposed to climate and environmental hazards, shocks, and stresses. Countries have been ranked in the report based on the index i.e., how vulnerable children are to environmental stresses and extreme weather events. 

CCRI has been calculated using 57 variables for 163 countries 

There are two pillars that form the basis for CCRI. These are-

  1. Exposure to climate and environmental hazards, shocks, and stresses– The components of this pillar capture a range of climate and environmental hazards, shocks, and stresses which are currently being monitored such as water scarcity, floods, cyclones, heatwaves, pollution, vector-borne diseases, etc. 
  2. Child Vulnerability- Child-specific dimensions and their coping capacity are captured under this pillar. The components include child health and nutrition, education, WASH, poverty, and social protection which are calculated using variables that relate to community, national or institutional abilities. For example, Child health is determined using data on child mortality and immunization. Immunization includes the coverage of DTP3, MCV2, and PCV3 vaccines.

A total of 57 variables have been taken into consideration to measure risk across 163 countries. The sources of data used for the calculation include UN organizations such as UNEP, UNICEF, WHO, UNESCO, UNFPA, World Bank, ILO, World Resources Institute, research papers, etc. 

The index helps in understanding and measuring the probability of environmental shocks that lead to a setback on the development achieved so far and identifying how exactly children will be affected, thereby helping policymakers prioritize action accordingly.

Children are more vulnerable to climate shocks than adults due to multiple factors

Children are more vulnerable to climate and environmental shocks because of their poorer ability to withstand and survive floods, droughts, and heatwaves. Further, they are physiologically more susceptible. In case of disease outbreaks such as malaria and dengue which are likely to increase due to climate change, children are more at risk of dying than adults. 

The report states that almost every child on the planet is exposed to at least one of the major climate and environmental hazards, shocks, and stresses. Further, over 850 million children which is nearly one-third of the world’s child population are exposed to four or more stresses. As many as 330 million children, roughly one-seventh live in areas affected by at least five major shocks.

Furthermore, the report also found out that 920 million children are highly prone to water scarcity, 820 million to heatwaves, 815 million to lead pollution, 600 million to vector-borne diseases, 400 million to tropical storms, 330 million to riverine flooding, and 240 million to coastal flooding.

Iceland has the lowest risk while the Central African Republic recorded the highest risk for children

CCRI for the 163 countries ranges from 1 to 8.6. Iceland with a CCRI of 1 has the lowest risk for children with respect to climate change whereas the Central African Republic, with a CCRI of 8.7, has the highest risk for children. It was found that approximately 1 billion children, nearly half of the total global child population, live in one of the 33 countries classified as ‘extremely high risk’. These 33 countries have CCRI more than 7. 

Children in the Central African Republic, Chad, Nigeria, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau were the most at risk. 28 out of the 33 countries are concentrated in the African continent and Haiti is the only one in this list that is in Latin America and the Caribbean. The remaining four countries are from South Asia- Pakistan, Bangladesh Afghanistan, and India. India is ranked 26 with a CCRI of 7.4 while Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan are ranked 14, 15, and 25 respectively. Nepal is ranked 51, Sri Lanka 61 and Bhutan 111 with CCRI of  6.1, 5.4, and 3.8 respectively. In the following chart, India’s CCRI has been represented alongside that of major countries to understand India’s global position.

Countries with ‘extremely high risk’ account only for 9.4% of emissions

The report also highlighted the deep inequitable side of climate change. It is seen that the most vulnerable places which will be severely affected by climate change have contributed the least to the problem. The 33 countries where children are at ‘extremely high risk’ according to CCRI, emit only about 9.4% of the global greenhouse gas emissions (CO2). The 10 countries with the highest risk emit only about 0.55% of the greenhouse gases. The 10 highest emitting countries collectively account for nearly 70% of global emissions. China which is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases is responsible for more than 30% of the global emissions has a CCRI score of 6.7 while the US which is responsible for nearly 15% of the emissions (second highest) has a CCRI score of 5. India is the third-highest emitter accounting for 7% has CCRI more than the US and China. Among the top 20 emitters, only India has been classified as ‘extremely high risk’. 

Children are trapped in a vicious cycle, which calls for immediate action

The report notes that on one side, the lack of adequate essential services is making children more vulnerable to climate shocks. On the other side, the increasing climate shocks threaten the children’s health, education, nutrition, survival, and future, leading to a vicious cycle. 

UNICEF has urgently called on governments, businesses, and relevant actors to immediately take action to help children who are trapped in this vicious cycle. The recommendations include an increase in investment in climate adaptation and resilience in key services for children, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, including young people in climate negotiations, and providing children with climate education and green skills to help them prepare for climate change’s effects. Considering the pandemic that has added another dimension to the challenge, UNICEF recommends recovery from COVID-19 pandemic to be green, low-carbon and inclusive. Countries must also ensure that their pledges to keep the global rising temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius are met.

India had the most fatalities due to climate change in 2018

In India, the NITI Aayog in 2018 estimated that more than 600 million Indians will face ‘acute water shortages’ in the coming years. At the same time, flash flooding and droughts are also set to increase significantly in India if the temperature increase is not controlled. India has also recorded the highest number of fatalities due to climate change and the second-highest monetary loss from its impact in 2018, according to the German Watch Global Climate Risk Index- 2019

Jharkhand is relatively the most vulnerable state

The Department of Science and Technology had earlier released a report, ‘Climate Vulnerability Assessment for Adaptation Planning in India Using a Common Framework’, which assessed the vulnerability of states and districts in India. According to the report, Jharkhand was relatively the most vulnerable state to climate risks while Maharashtra is the least vulnerable in relative terms. Further, Jharkhand, Mizoram, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Assam, Bihar, Arunachal Pradesh, and West Bengal in that order have been identified to be the most vulnerable states. Except for Chhattisgarh, the remaining seven states lie in the eastern part of the country. 

Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, Gujarat, Meghalaya, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka are in the category of ‘moderate vulnerability’ while Himachal Pradesh, Telangana, Sikkim, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Nagaland, Goa, and Maharashtra are the states with low vulnerability as per the index. Like the global picture, states with lower per capita income and low Human Development Index were more vulnerable. 

Malnutrition, health issues, lack of access to education and healthcare were prominent among children in hazard-prone areas in India

In 2020, PwC India and Save the Children India conducted a year-long study with 636 households in Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, and West Bengal covering three different hazard-prone ecosystems i.e., floods, droughts, and cyclones, to understand the impact of climate change on children, identify risk and mitigation strategies and develop a roadmap for a climate-resilient future. The study observed that in Morena and Purulia, West Bengal, poor agricultural productivity had resulted in indebtedness which forced children to drop out of schools. In Khargone, Madhya Pradesh, groundwater level had dropped resulting in dehydration which was found to be common among children. As per the report, children made up for around 39% of the reported hospital admissions in the aftermath of a climate-related disaster in Uttarakhand. Malnutrition, health issues, lack of access to educational institutions were also observed among children in these places. The report called for a policy framework in the country for mainstreaming child-related climate change considerations. 

Featured Image: Children’s Climate Risk Index

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