An estimated 774 million children across the world – or one third of the world’s child population – are living with the dual impacts of poverty and high climate risk, according to a new report by Save the Children.
The country with the highest percentage of children impacted by this double burden is South Sudan (87%), followed by the Central African Republic (85%) and Mozambique (80%).
Generation Hope: 2.4 billion reasons to end the global climate and inequality crisis, found that while 80% of children are estimated to be affected by at least one extreme climate event a year, some are at particular risk because they also face poverty. This means they have less capacity to protect themselves and recover.
The analysis revealed that India has the highest total number of children both living in poverty and bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, at 223 million. Nigeria and Ethiopia follow, with 58 million and 36 million children, respectively, living with this double burden.
The report used climate modelling from researchers at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and found that a significant number of children – 121 million – experiencing the double threat of high climate risk and poverty live in higher income countries. Twenty-eight million live in the world’s most affluent countries, with more than two out of five of these children (12.3 million) living in the US or the UK.
In the UK, it is estimated 3.2 million children out of 14.2 are in poverty and affected by a least one climate change event per year.
Globally, 183 million children face the triple threat of high climate risk, poverty and conflict. Out of the total child population experiencing this triple burden, children in Burundi (63%), Afghanistan (55%) and the Central African Republic (41%) are the most affected.
The climate and inequality crisis erodes children’s and communities’ resilience to shocks. If not urgently addressed, the frequency and severity of humanitarian and cost of living crises are set to increase in the years ahead.
Drawing on insights from the 54,000 children in a major consultation conducted earlier this year, the report also shows how these multiple, overlapping risks are linked to and exacerbate the current global food, nutrition and cost of living crisis that is causing 345 million people in 82 countries to face a severe lack of food.
Luciano, 12, lives in a displacement camp in Malawi. His family lost their home after cyclone Ana ripped through their island in January 2022. His family climbed out of the house and onto a tree, but Luciano’s younger brother was washed away by the floods. Luciano said:
“We moved to the camp because water flooded on the other side of the river and it surprised us at night, when we were sleeping. All we managed to save was a few of our clothes. We tried to save more items, but we couldn’t. My little brother was on top of the house. Whilst he was on top, the house collapsed, and suddenly he was gone.
“At the camp we do not eat enough food. When I used to live on the other side of the river, I was not like this. Now I have lost some weight. But I have hope and I would like to live the life I lived before the floods, again.
“I am always anxious that the floods will hit again because when they hit last time, they created a stream near our house that can easily flood when it rains.”
Gwen Hines, CEO of Save the Children UK, said:
“Across the world, inequalities are deepening the climate emergency and its impacts, most notably for children and low-income households.
“Given the scale of the challenge, it would be easy to fall into despair. But we, as today’s generation of adults, must learn from children and dig deep into our reserves of hope for a greener and more just world. We must use this hope to drive action with children, putting our capacity for creativity and collaboration to work to end the climate and inequality crisis and push for the protection and fulfilment of children’s rights.
“As leaders prepare to travel to the COP27 and G20 summits, they should have the rights and voices of children at the front of their minds. It is imperative that they secure ambitious outcomes, ensuring children have safe and meaningful ways to input into decision making. In particular, the world’s richest countries, whose historic emissions have driven the climate and inequality crisis, must lead the way in unlocking financing for countries that are struggling to protect children from its impacts, including through fixing the global debt relief system and through climate finance – particularly for adaptation and loss and damage”.
The new report builds on ground-breaking research published by Save the Children in partnership with Vrije Universiteit Brussel in 2021, which found that children born in 2020 will on average face seven times more scorching heatwaves during their lives than their grandparents, and newborns across the globe will on average live through 2.6 times more droughts.
The report comes as families across the world battle the worst global hunger crisis this century, fueled by a deadly mix of poverty, conflict, climate change, and economic shocks, with the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the crisis in Ukraine further driving up food prices and the cost of living. One million people are facing famine across five countries, with estimates that one person is dying every four seconds of hunger.
Save the Children is calling on the UK government to step up their action to address the climate and inequality crisis by meeting its fair share of the $100 billion international climate finance commitment and mobilising support for a new international commitment in the scale of trillions to match the problem. The aid agency is also calling on the government to ensure children’s rights are at the heart of climate finance by ensuring the services children rely on are resilient during times of climate disasters, including education, health and social protection.