LONDON (Reuters) - Millions of the world’s poorest children are among the most vulnerable and unwitting victims of climate change caused by the rich developed world, a United Nations report said on Tuesday, calling for urgent action.
The UNICEF report “Our Climate, Our Children, Our Responsibility” measured action on targets set in the Millennium Development Goals to halve child poverty by 2015. It found failure on counts from health to survival, education and sex equality.
“It is clear that a failure to address climate change is a failure to protect children,” said UNICEF UK director David Bull. “Those who have contributed least to climate change — the world’s poorest children — are suffering the most.”
The report said climate change could add 40,000-160,000 extra child deaths a year in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa through lower economic growth.
It also noted that if temperatures rose by two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — up to 200 million people globally would face hunger — a figure rising to 550 million with a temperature rise of three degrees.
The UNICEF report said economic damage due to climate change would force parents to withdraw children from schools — the only place that many of them are guaranteed at least one meal a day in many areas — to fetch water and fuel instead.
The environmental changes wrought by climate change will also expand the range of deadly diseases like malaria, which already kills 800,000 children a year and is now being seen in previously unaffected areas.
Scientists predict that global average temperatures will rise by between 1.6 and 4.0 degrees Celsius this century due to carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels for power and transport, causing floods, famines, violent storms and droughts.
Efforts are being made to reach an international agreement on action to ensure temperatures do not rise more than 2.0 degrees.
But some environmentalists say 2.0 degrees is inevitable whatever action is taken now, partly because of the 30-year time lag in climate response to emitted carbon and partly because nations like China can’t and won’t stop burning carbon.
China, with vast coal reserves and an economy growing at 10 percent a year, is set to overtake the United States as the world’s biggest carbon emitter as it opens a new coal-fired power station a week.
Developing nations, under pressure to sign up to new curbs on carbon emissions at the end of next year, say there is no reason they should keep their people in poverty when the problem has been caused by the rich developed world.
“Rich countries’ responsibility for the bulk of past emissions demands that we give our strong support,” said Nicholas Stern whose report in 2006 on the economic implications of the climate crisis sparked international concern.
“Business-as-usual or delayed action would lead to the probability of much higher temperature increases which would catastrophically transform our planet,” he wrote in a foreword to Tuesday’s report.
“It will be the young and the poor and developing countries that will suffer earliest and hardest. We cannot allow this to happen.”
Editing by Kate Kelland.