REPORT: One in three children globally face double threat of high climate risk and crushing poverty
Luciano, 12, standing by the devastation left by Cyclone Ana and flooding in Malawi. Photo by Thoko Chikondi/Save the Children
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LONDON/GENEVA, 26 October – 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, developed by the child rights organisation with climate modelling from researchers at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), 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 and so 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 — up to 223 million children in total. It is followed by Nigeria and Ethiopia, with 58 million and 36 million children, respectively, living with this double burden.
A significant number of children – 121 million – experiencing the double threat of high climate risk and poverty live in higher income countries, with 28 million of them in the world’s most affluent countries. More than two out of five of these children (12.3 million) live in the US or the UK.
In addition, across the globe, 183 million children face the triple threat of high climate risk, poverty and conflict. Out of the total child population experiencing this triple burden, the children in Burundi (63%), Afghanistan (55%) and the Central African Republic (41%) are the most affected.
Save the Children says the climate and inequality crisis is a risk-multiplier, eroding children’s and communities’ resilience to shocks. If it is 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 Save the Children heard from in a major consultation conducted between May and August 2022, 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 the island where they lived. 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. Our ducks begun getting out of the house including our chickens. They all started being pushed in circles by the waters. We tried to save the ducks and the chickens, but 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.”
Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International, 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 such as Luciano 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, fuelled 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.
- To estimate the number of children living in poverty and affected by high climate risk, Save the Children estimated the proportion of climate-affected children and children affected by poverty in 1,925 subnational regions across 159 countries, covering 98% of the total child population (2.32 billion children). The poverty measure used in most countries is multi-dimensional, with children classed as living in poverty if they suffer deprivation in at least one of the following areas: health, nutrition, education, housing, water or sanitation. We estimated the proportion of children which are experiencing at least one extreme climate event per year (wildfires, crop failures, droughts, river floods, heatwaves, and tropical cyclones) based on an analysis by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel for Save the Children, using the largest multi-model climate impact projections database available to date.
- When combining the share of children in poverty and affected by high climate risk on a subnational level, we assumed that poverty is equally distributed within those regions, likely leading to an underestimate given that poorer households often live in more risk-prone areas.
- In this report, we refer to low and lower middle-income countries as “lower income”, and high and upper middle-income countries as “higher income”.
- More information can be found in the full methodology note.