Oct 26, 2022 - World

"Virtually every child" will be exposed to frequent heat waves by 2050

Mother cools her daughter by a fan

A mother cools off her daughter by a window with fan on during the heat wave in in Los Angeles on Sept. 7. Photo: Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Nearly all of the children on earth will experience more frequent heat waves by 2050 as the earth's climate crisis ramps up, according to a new UNICEF report.

Why it matters: Heat waves pose a threat to children because they are less capable of regulating their body temperatures than adults.

  • Greater heat wave exposure increases their chances of heat wave mortality as well as health problems such as cardiovascular diseases, asthma and respiratory illnesses, the UN agency said in a press release Tuesday.

State of play: "By 2050, virtually every child on earth — over 2 billion children — is forecast to face more frequent heatwaves" and will occur regardless of whether the world attains a "'low greenhouse gas emission scenario" or a "very high greenhouse gas emission scenario," the report said.

  • The findings emphasize the need to take measures to reduce emissions to curb global warming as much as possible, but also of adapting social services such as water and sanitation to protect children.
  • "For example, food systems must be strengthened to withstand hazards and ensure continued access to healthy diets," per the press release.

Details: Currently, about 559 million children are exposed to high heat wave frequency, which UNICEF defines as areas that average about 4.5 heat waves per year.

  • UNICEF's report, which is not peer-reviewed, also says 23% of the world's children currently experience high heat wave duration, defined as heat waves that lasted 4.7 days or longer.
  • Children in northern areas such as Europe will face the "most dramatic increases" in heat wave severity. By 2050, almost half of all children in Africa and Asia will have "sustained exposure to extreme high temperatures," the report stated.

What they're saying: "This will have a devastating impact on children," Vanessa Nakate, climate activist and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, said in a UN press release.

  • "The more frequent, longer lasting and more severe heatwaves children are exposed to, the greater the impacts on health, safety, nutrition, education, access to water and future livelihoods," she added.
  • "At a minimum, governments must urgently limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius and double adaptation funding by 2025. This is the only way to save children's lives and futures — and the future of the planet," UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said.

The big picture: Historic heat waves gripped the U.S., Europe and Asia this year alone and highlighted the dangers of such extreme weather events.

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