Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

'Every Child Born Today Will Be Profoundly Affected by Climate Change'

Climate
Children are forced to wear masks due to the toxic smoke from peat land fires in Indonesia. Aulia Erlangga / CIFOR

By Irene Banos Ruiz

Pediatricians in New Delhi, India, say children's lungs are no longer pink, but black.

Our warming planet is already impacting the health of the world's children and will shape the future of an entire generation if we fail to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (35.6°F), the 2019 Lancet Countdown Report on health and climate change shows.


"Over the past 30 years, we've seen progressive decline in the numbers of deaths for all people and indeed for children," Anthony Costello, co-chair of The Lancet Countdown, told DW. "But what we're worrying about is that all of these gains could go into reverse if we don't urgently tackle the problem of climate change."

The research — compiled by 35 global institutions, including the World Health Organization and the World Bank —clearly shows the relationship between climate change, environmental destruction and health. Rising temperatures fuel hunger and malnutrition, an increase in the scale and scope of infectious disease and a growing frequency of extreme weather events, while air pollution has become as deadly to the human lung as smoking tobacco.

Under current emissions, children born today will live in a 4°C warmer world by the age of 71, the report says.

Difficult Access to Food

A baby born today will be exposed to the impacts of climate change from the very start of its life.
Rising temperatures coupled with drought and flooding devastate crops, causing global yields to decline. This deprives people of their livelihoods and pushes up food prices, which in turn leads to hunger and malnutrition, particularly in countries heavily reliant on agriculture, such as Burkina Faso.

"Acute malnutrition in five-year-old children in Burkina Faso is over 10%," Maurice Ye, a native to the country and advisor to the National Malaria Control Program in Madagascar, told DW. "This will increase if nothing is done to address the problem."

In India, malnutrition is already the reason for two thirds of deaths in children under the age of five, the Lancet report states.

Although malnutrition is often linked to hunger, it can also be the result of eating too much unhealthy food. As staples such as grains and rice face price hikes, consumers are motivated to buy cheaper, processed foods instead.

"That feeds into the other end of the malnutrition spectrum, which is that of overweight and obesity," Poornima Prabhakaran, deputy director of the Centre for Environmental Health at the Public Health Foundation of India and contributing author of the report, told DW.

A Deadly Breeding Ground

Under-fives will also suffer most from the increase in infectious diseases. Rising temperatures, warming waters, changing rainfall patterns and high levels of humidity facilitate the spread of bacteria leading to diarrheal diseases such as cholera, and also create ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes carrying malaria or dengue fever.

In 2017, there were an estimated 435,000 deaths from malaria globally and every two minutes a child somewhere in the world dies from the disease, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

This is of particular concern for countries such as Burkina Faso, where malaria caused over 28,000 deaths in 2018 alone, the WHO estimates.

But climate change will also allow these disease-carrying mosquitoes to reach new countries, such as those in southern Europe.

Around half of the world's population is now at risk from dengue disease, the Lancet report says.

If children survive malnutrition and infectious diseases, the research continues, they might not be spared devastating air pollution. This can corrupt their lung function, worsen asthma and increase the risk of heart attacks and stroke.

Outdoor air pollution — from fine particulate matter (PM2.5) — already contributes to 2.9 million premature deaths worldwide.

Extreme weather events are also becoming the new normal in European countries.

Heat and Cold Hit Hard

The health of a child born today could equally be damaged by extreme weather events such as wildfires and heat waves.

152 out of 196 countries have experienced an increase in people exposed to wildfires since 2001, which has resulted in direct deaths and respiratory illness. Record-breaking high temperatures, in turn, are of particular concern for elderly people over 65-years-old.

"Heat health impacts include heat exhaustion, heat stroke and aggravation of already existing morbidities from cardiovascular illness and respiratory illness," Prabhakaran said.

Heat can also lead to dehydratation in children and the elderly, experts say.

Although the world is warming, cold also represents a risk for people with little or no access to energy. "It kills more people than the heat overall," Costello said. "But a lot of that is due to social factors."

As inequalities are growing worldwide, more people find themselves in situations of vulnerability, he said.

An Urgent Coal Phase-Out

Prabhakaran hopes health impacts will be the turning point for reluctant policy makers.

"What we need to do is bring health in the center of discourse, the health impacts of fossil fuel combustion can be a strong argument for phasing out coal," she said.

The three experts agree that the first step to reducing the suffering of every child born today is a shift to a decarbonized world. It is technically feasible, they say, but will take tougher policies and genuine political will. Inaction is no longer an option.

"It's set to get much, much worse unless we take immediate action," Costello said.

Reposted with permission from DW.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A teenager reads a school English assignment at home after her school shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic on March 22, 2020 in Brooklyn, New York. Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis via Getty Images

The pandemic has affected everyone, but mental health experts warn that youth and teens are suffering disproportionately and that depression and suicide rates are increasing.

Read More Show Less
In an ad released by Republican Voters Against Trump, former coronavirus task force member Olivia Troye roasted the president for his response. Republican Voters Against Trump / YouTube

Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Climate Group

Every September for the past 11 years, non-profit the Climate Group has hosted Climate Week NYC, a chance for business, government, activist and community leaders to come together and discuss solutions to the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
A field of sunflowers near the Mehrum coal-fired power station, wind turbines and high-voltage lines in the Peine district of Germany on Aug. 3, 2020. Julian Stratenschulte / picture alliance via Getty Images

By Elliot Douglas

The coronavirus pandemic has altered economic priorities for governments around the world. But as wildfires tear up the west coast of the United States and Europe reels after one of its hottest summers on record, tackling climate change remains at the forefront of economic policy.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Monarch butterflies in Mexico's Oyamel forest in Michoacan, Mexico after migrating from Canada. Luis Acosta / AFP / Getty Images

By D. André Green II

One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.

Read More Show Less