How does climate change affect children?

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paul mitchell
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Joined: Sat Apr 07, 2018 10:24 pm

How does climate change affect children?

Post by paul mitchell » Sun Apr 08, 2018 9:19 pm

Climate change is not a challenge for the distant future, and, over the last few years, the severity of its impacts has acquired a renewed sense of urgency. Yet there has been little recognition of the specific impacts of climate change on children and, more particularly, to identify what we know and what we don’t concerning what works to reduce these impacts. We therefore launch this topic to initiate a discussion among the key child-centered organizations in order to better guide our interventions and advocacy efforts.

Impacts of climate change on children
We propose the following five reasons we believe that children are one of the most vulnerable groups to the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation and ask others to propose additions, subtractions and modifications to this list:
  • Children can suffer irreversible impacts that affect lifetime earnings potential and lead to the intergenerational transmission of poverty (Mitchell, 2016)
  • They are also a key stakeholder, in the present as well as in future — children make up 30 per cent of the world’s population, and globally, there are nearly twice as many children under 15 as there are adults over 60 (UNDESA, 2015).
  • Children are physiologically and psychologically less able to cope with the impacts of climate change (Sheffield and Landrigan, 2011; UNICEF, 2011; Doherty and Clayton, 2011)
  • Their exclusion from decision-making processes exacerbates these inherent vulnerabilities (Seballos, 2009)
    It is the most vulnerable children — those facing multiple levels of discrimination — that experience the most pervasive violation of their rights (UNICEF, 2014).
Climate change and poverty
More broadly, we argue that climate change is a key driver of poverty (Brainard et al, 2009) and that we will not be able to eradicate poverty without solving the climate crisis (Gutierrez et al, 2013) for the following reasons (again, please add, subtract or modify). Climate change is projected to:
  • Slow down economic growth (Hallegatte et al, 2016)
  • Make poverty reduction more difficult (Brainard et al, 2009)
  • Further erode food security (Tacoli et al, 2013)
  • Prolong existing and create new poverty traps, particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger (IPCC, 2014)
  • Have (actual and potential) impacts on all development sectors (IPCC, 2014)
  • Pose a significant threat to the attainment of human rights (Moss, 2009)
This should spur significant action to ensure all efforts to reduce poverty are ‘climate-smart’.

What we need to know?
More empirical evidence is required to guide economic policies to help reduce the impacts of climate change on children. We identify the following five key evidence gaps (please propose additions, subtractions and modifications):
  • Which interventions addressing climate change impacts broadly have the most beneficial outcomes for children?
  • Which policy-settings generate the most equitable climate change outcomes for children, now and in future?
  • Do child-centred approaches to addressing climate change have sustainable impact beyond project life?
  • Do child-centred approaches to addressing climate change generate adaptation dividends beyond the target group (i.e. for broader communities and societies)?
  • Does child participation in local level adaptation planning change the outcome (i.e. are plans different, do they better address children’s needs and capacities?)
What can we do about this?
Three proposals for consideration (please propose additions, subtractions and modifications)
1. Ensure climate risk screening and child-centred adaptation are core components of all child poverty-related projects: this would help increase the sustainability of outcomes, help ensure children are better prepared for a harsher future climate, and provide a basis for building broader organisational resilience (Mitchell and Bourchard, 2014).

2. Integrate climate change into broader socio-economic plans and strategies by asking what are the key climate-related challenges facing children in [this country/sector]
a. During the strategy period
b. In the future
and what can we do to manage these challenges now?

3. Include climate change as a key driver of child poverty in advocacy initiatives. The ‘Zero Poverty, Zero Emissions’ campaign launched in 2014 is a good example of this approach (Granoff et al, 2015).

Mitchell and Borchard (2014) Mainstreaming children’s vulnerabilities and capacities into community-based adaptation to enhance impact. Climate and Development 6(4), p.372-381 < ... 014.934775>
UNICEF (ed.) (2014) The Challenges of climate change: Children on the front line. UNICEF Office of Research: Florence <>
Mitchell, Paul. (2016) Children in a changing climate: How child-centered approaches can build resilience and overcome multiple barriers to adaptation. In Godfrey and Torres (2016) Emergent Possibilities for Global Sustainability: Intersections of Race, Class and Gender. Routledge: New York
(UNDESA) United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2015) World population prospects: The 2015 revision, p.1-2 < ... P_2015.pdf>
Sheffield and Landrigan (2011) Global climate change and children’s health: threats and strategies for prevention. Environmental Health Perspectives, 119(3), pp. 291-298
UNICEF (2011) Children’s vulnerability to climate change and disaster impacts in East Asia and the Pacific. Bangkok: UNICEF
Doherty and Clayton (2011) The psychological impacts of global climate change. American Psychologist, 66(4), pp. 265-276
Seballos (2009) Children’s participation in community-based disaster risk reduction and adaptation to climate change. Participatory Learning and Action, 60, pp.54-64
UNICEF (2014) State of the World’s Children 2015. UNICEF: New York
Brainard et al (2009) Climate change and global poverty: A billion lives in the balance? Brookings Institution Press: Washington D.C.
Gutierrez et al (2013) Zero poverty... think again. Overseas Development Institute: London
Hallegatte et al (2016) Shock waves: Managing the impacts of climate change on poverty. World Bank: Washington D.C.
Tacoli et al (2013) Urban poverty, food security and climate change. Human Settlements Working Paper No.37. International Institute of Environment and Development: London
IPCC (2014) Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change <>
Moss, J (2009). Climate change and social justice. Melbourne University Press: Melbourne
Granoff et al (2015) Zero poverty, zero emissions: Eradicating extreme poverty in the climate crisis. Overseas Development Institute: London

Nicholas Rees
Posts: 1
Joined: Mon Apr 23, 2018 3:39 am

Re: How does climate change affect children?

Post by Nicholas Rees » Mon Apr 23, 2018 5:35 pm

Dear Paul,

Firstly, thank you very much for this posting – I think it is excellent. It thoroughly covers the impacts of climate change on children, the nexus with poverty, as well as outlines what we know and ways to take this forward. I would only add a couple points, many of them reinforcing several of the points you raised:

I think we need to think of particular groups of vulnerable children in addressing the impacts of climate change. This includes the intersections with other factors and contexts, such as being forced to migrate as a result of a changing climate. It includes addressing the particular needs of children with disabilities with respect to climate change risks, or children who are also living in humanitarian or fragile contexts. The intersections with these factors require unique interventions, and we can build on considerable knowledge to create appropriate solutions that tackle both climate change as well as other risks.

I am a strong believer in providing children and youth with climate change education, awareness raising and training. As future leaders, the more children and youth know about the impacts of climate change, the more empowered they will be to address the issue. Youth should also be provided with training and skills which can enable them to participate effectively in the new demands of a green economy. We need to harness the potential of technology, remote learning, and ever evolving knowledge on sustainability to make sure children are prepared for these types of future jobs.

There is a lot that can be done simply in terms of aligning and coordinating policies on climate adaptation with broader preparedness and disaster risk reduction. In particular, greatest prospect for this would be at national and sub-national levels. Policy alignment can be a good starting point for many of the points that you raise.

We should not only be thinking about how to integrate climate change into broader socio-economic plans and strategies – but also how our current strategies to reduce inequity and deprivation, including improved nutrition, health, and protection, for example, contribute to improved resilience to climate change.

I was especially intrigued at your point about addressing climate change generating dividends beyond the target group. I think this has considerable scope as a basis for improved planning and policies (including policy coherence and alignment).

And lastly, I very much appreciated the points on improved child and youth participation. We have seen time and again that children point to climate change as one of their biggest areas of concern. Moreover, some of the most innovative responses are generated by young people themselves. It would be great if we can find a way of making their participation even more central.

Thank you again for this very eloquent and comprehensive posting. Very much looking forward to further discussions with this on you and the community!

Angeline Munzara
Posts: 1
Joined: Tue May 15, 2018 8:55 am

Re: How does climate change affect children?

Post by Angeline Munzara » Mon Jun 04, 2018 5:59 pm

Dear Paul

Thank you for initiating this discussion on the impact o climate change on children. Indeed children are disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, but are rarely considered in international or national climate policies. Virtually all State Parties to the UNFCCC have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, yet child rights are often overlooked in the context of international and national climate change policy processes.

Worldwide, 795 million people do not have access to enough nutritious food each day to lead active and productive lives(FAO, IFAD, WFP (2014). State of Food Insecurity in the World, 2014. than 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty – a third of these are children under the age of 18 ( P. Olinto, K. Beegle, C. Sobrado and H.Uematsu (2013), The State of the Poor: Where are the Poor, Where is Extreme Poverty Harder to End, and What is the Current Profile of the World’s Poor? ... 125.pdf)In low-income countries, more than 50 per cent of all children live in extreme poverty. Poor nutrition causes 45 per cent (UNICEF and WHO (2014) Fulfilling the Health Agenda for Women and Children: The 2014 Report. ... n_to_2015-) of the 5.9 million4 preventable deaths in children under age 5 – approximately 2.8 million children each year. In 2015, 159 million children were stunted and 50 million suffered from wasting;( UNICEF, WHO, World Bank (2015). Levels and trends in child malnutrition ... 5.pdf?ua=1*) most live in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.6 Additionally, 2 billion people are micronutrient deficient,( Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition (2014). How can agriculture and food system policies improve nutrition? ... 0Final.pdf) meanwhile another 2 billion are overweight or obese.(World Bank (2016). Future of Food: Shaping the global food system to deliver improved nutrition and health ... health.pdf) If the current trends in consumption patterns and food waste continue, it is estimated we will require 60 per cent more food production by 2050,( Alexandratos and Bruinsma, FAO, World Agriculture Towards 2030/2050,The 2012 Revision a goal severely threatened by climate change impacts. Climate change is expected to reduce yields from rain-fed crops in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa by 50 per cent as early as 2020, resulting in an additional 24 million undernourished children and putting between 40 and 170 million more people at risk of hunger worldwide.(Evans, A. (2009) The feeding of nine billion: Global Food Security for the 21st Century.

Disasters and climate change also pose a danger to child protection efforts. During and after disasters, displaced women and girls are at greater risk of sexual and gender-based violence, including rape, forced marriages, sexual exploitation and assault, as they try to meet their basic needs(UN Women, Climate Change, Disasters and Gender-Based Violence in The Pacific (n.d.), ... men701.pdf.)

Vidya Diwakar
Posts: 1
Joined: Thu Jul 12, 2018 9:01 pm

Re: How does climate change affect children?

Post by Vidya Diwakar » Mon Jul 30, 2018 2:05 pm

Dear Paul,

Thanks for your overview on how climate affects child poverty, and thanks to others as well for a stimulating discussion. In this post, for the purposes of adding an additional lens to the discussion above, I will not focus on outcomes for child poverty directly, but rather on the indirect household-level pathways of impact, which speaks to the need to not lose sight of the context.

In ODI, we are in the midst a study which examines the relationship between natural hazard-related disasters, including those influenced by climate change, and child and adolescent poverty in India and Kenya (Diwakar et al., forthcoming). The study explores these connections through a lifecycle approach, which focuses on the incidence of child poverty and longer-term poverty dynamics and wellbeing. Analysis is done directly (through the effects of disasters on household poverty trajectories and individual deprivation) and indirectly (through the effects of disasters and climate change on services and systems central to children’s wellbeing and long-term development, including health, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene, and education).

What does our research say about disasters, climate, and household poverty dynamics?
Regarding the context, our research finds that disasters and climate change affect households’ poverty status and pathways. In India, for example, our emerging analysis reveals that households in disaster-prone districts are more at risk of chronic poverty and impoverishment relative to escaping poverty. It’s worth reiterating that the central focus of our report is on the life course approach to understanding children’s wellbeing, but in this blog I am referring to the associations we also make in our analysis with household poverty dynamics.

Why is it important to focus on household poverty pathways?
1) It draws attention to the life course and longer-term wellbeing of children. Natural hazard-related disasters, including those influenced by climate change, affect children and adolescents in different ways: directly and indirectly, as noted above. Research tends to focus on the short-term, direct impacts, not the critical indirect and longer-term effects that disasters may have on a child’s multidimensional wellbeing and longer-term development.

2) Situating the child within the household (where children live in households) draws attention to children as potential agents of households escaping poverty. The factors which can facilitate this include for example education, with secondary education seen as particularly important to sustaining poverty escapes, and the social capital which can support children’s education. As children age into adolescents and then young adults, migration and any remittances they send home are also important in contributing to sustained poverty escapes.

3) Reaching ‘zero poverty’ for everyone, including children, means tackling chronic poverty: preventing people from falling into it, and ensuring that escapes from it are sustained (Shepherd et al., 2015), including in the face of environmental shocks and stresses. An examination of these long-term poverty dynamics or changes in wellbeing over time brings the focus on the chronically poor: people who have been poor for many years; whose poverty is often transmitted to future generations; and who often lack the skills, education and other assets to escape poverty. Where they do manage to escape, these groups may be especially vulnerable to falling back into poverty – particularly when shocks (including disasters) strike.

What can be done?
One of our suggestions (Diwakar et al., forthcoming) is that climate and disaster risk should have a stronger focus in socioeconomic development policy. While Kenya and India have national and subnational policies and plans to reduce climate/disaster risk, building resilience to environmental shocks and stresses requires that other sectors and line ministries have the incentive, mandate, capacity and finances to deliver risk-informed development policies, programming and services; this should include across health, nutrition; water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); education; child protection and social protection, all of which are systems and services central to a child’s wellbeing. This is still a challenge and there remains a need to increase the ‘integration of interventions across sectors and to foster strong governance and institutional arrangements for resilience across scales’ in both countries (Carabine et al., 2015: 4).

Carabine, E., Jouanjean, M. and Tsui. J, 2015. ‘Kenya Ending Drought Emergencies Policy Review: Scenarios for Building Resilience in the ASALs.’ Report prepared by the Technical Consortium, a project of the CGIAR. Technical Report Series No. 2: ‘Strengthening the Evidence Base for Resilience in the Horn of Africa’. Nairobi, Kenya: International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).
Diwakar, V., Lovell, E., Opitz-Stapleton, S., Shepherd, A., and Twigg, J. (forthcoming). Child poverty, disasters and climate change: Investigating relationships and implications over a child’s life course. London: ODI.
Shepherd, A., Scott, L., Mariotti, C., Kessy, F., Gaiha, R., da Corta, L., Hanifnia, K., Kaicker, N., Lenhardt, A., Lwanga-Ntale, C., Sen, B., Sijapati, B., Strawson, T., Thapa, G., Underhill, H., and Wild, L. (2014). The Chronic Poverty Report 2014-2015: The road to zero extreme poverty. London: ODI.


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