Experts have long warned climate change will disproportionately affect poor and disadvantaged demographics, but it will also have an outsize impact on younger generations, according to a study published in the journal Science.
Researchers estimate that under current international Paris climate agreement commitments, people born in 2020 will face twice the risk of wildfires as those born in 1960 as well as 2.8 times the crop failures, 2.6 times the droughts, 2.8 times the river flooding and just under seven times the heat waves.
“Our results highlight a severe threat to the safety of young generations and call for drastic emission reductions to safeguard their future,” co-author Wim Thiery, a research professor at Belgium’s Vrije Universiteit Brussel, said in a statement.
Researchers also analyzed a scenario in which warming is kept to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the most optimistic scenario projected by the International Panel on Climate Change. In this case, they wrote, people born in 2020 would see their lifetime exposure to heat waves reduced by 45 percent and their exposure to droughts reduced by 39 percent. River flooding, meanwhile, would see a 38 percent risk reduction, along with 28 percent for crop failures and 10 percent for wildfires.
However, Thiery noted, even at or above 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, people born after 1980 would still see a level of exposure to those phenomena that is unheard of in preindustrial history.
“This basically means that people younger than 40 today will live an unprecedented life even under the most stringent climate change mitigation scenarios,” he said.
These impacts will disproportionately fall on children in developing countries. Some 172 million children born in the last five years in sub-Saharan Africa will face a sixfold increase in lifetime exposure to extreme weather phenomena, including a fiftyfold increase in heat waves. Comparatively, about 53 million children born in Europe and Asia during the same period will face a fourfold increase in exposure to extreme phenomena.
In addition to keeping warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, the researchers called on international governments to meet their commitment of $100 billion a year in climate financing for adaptation and mitigation. It further called for an increased recognition of children as “equal stakeholders” in the climate crisis and for a scaling-up of social safety nets to address the threats.
The research comes weeks before the COP26 international climate summit in Glasgow. The Biden administration has announced a target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and reducing emissions 45 percent by 2030. The European Union, meanwhile, has announced a more ambitious reduction target of 55 percent.