On 29 March 2015, children play on a fallen tree that came down during Cyclone Pam on 13 Marchs 2015 and has crushed a car on the outskirts of Port Vila in Vanuatu. Unicef/2015/Sokhin

Climate change

The impact of climate change
on children's lives and futures

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Climate change is a children’s issue

Children, particularly the poorest, are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. From natural disasters to the creeping impacts of rising sea levels and changing rain fall patterns, climate change threatens children’s most basic rights, including their health, access to food and water, education – even their survival.

Climate change also makes the root causes of instability and conflict even worse, placing children at a higher risk of violence, exploitation and abuse.

Children from around the world spoke to us about what climate change means to them. Watch the video to hear their views.

On 15 September, a family washes clothing in the flood waters near their camp, in the city of Digri, in Sindh Province. They are standing on sandbags at the edge of the rising water. Unicef/Pakistan 2011/Page

Climate change leaves children without a future

Drought and flooding provide breeding grounds for deadly diseases such as malaria and diarrhoea – leading causes of death for children. Drought can also lead to crop failures and rising food prices, putting children in danger of malnutrition – responsible for almost half of worldwide deaths of children under the age of five. For those that survive, the impacts can be lifelong.

When extreme weather strikes, children may be displaced in chaotic and precarious circumstances, and at risk of physical and psychological trauma. Children that become separated from their parents are more likely to experience violence, exploitation and abuse.

Schools may be destroyed or taken over as shelters in the event of extreme weather, or children may be displaced to locations that are too far away to attend. Girls in particular are more likely to be taken out of school to make up for lost income when crops shrivel and families’ livelihoods fail. Similarly, teenagers may be sent away to work forcing them to drop out of school and travel in precarious circumstances, often without the protection of parents. In Bangladesh, climate change has been linked to an increase in the number of girls forced into child marriage or prostitution in cities, often by desperate parents that have no other means to provide for their families.

In central Ethiopia, Harko, 12, accompanied by her brother, walks home across an arid stretch of land behind two donkeys carrying jerrycans filled with water, in Haro Huba Kebele in Fantale Woreda, in East Shoa Zone, Oromia Region. Harko, who must search for water almost every day, no longer attends school. She travels at night to avoid the heat and does not get home until well into the afternoon on the following day. She says that the journey can be scary because they must watch out for hyenas. © UNICEF/UN011588/Ayene

Harko, 12, is no longer going to school as she is forced to go in search of water almost every day, travelling at night to avoid the heat and not returning until the next day.
Unicef/2016 Ethiopia/Ayene

What is Unicef doing to protect children from the effects of climate change?

From building cyclone-proof schools to protecting vital water supplies from flooding, and empowering children to take action, we are helping communities to become more resilient to the impacts of climate change throughout the world, and preventing hard won development gains from being wiped out.

Read more case studies

Projects for tackling the impacts of climate change

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A girl listens to a teacher at a cycloneproof schools in Madagascar

Since 2008, we have been building cyclone-proof schools in Madagascar. Teachers and students are also trained in disaster risk reduction and preparedness.

A girl collects water from a solar powered pump in Blue Nile State, Sudan.

Solar-powered pumping systems, like this one in Sudan, provide life-saving clean water as well as reducing the dangers of sexual violence when women and girls have to walk long distances to find water.

Young people particpate in the Unite4Climate’ Zambia programme, which empowers 11-17-year-olds in all 10 of Zambia’s provinces to become climate ambassadors.

We are empowering children to become climate Ambassadors through programmes such as Unite4Climate in Zambia. Young people are responsible for creating a range of projects to address climate change.

How can Governments make a difference for children in the future?

As part of the historic 2015 Paris Agreement, we called for children and their rights to be placed at the very core of this new climate deals. Thanks to our campaigning, Governments agreed to “respect, promote and consider” children’s rights, as well as inter-generational equity, when taking action to address climate change. This was a huge moment in recognising how climate change and children’s rights are intrinsically linked.

Now words must be translated into action. Our new report, No Place To Call Home, shines a light for the first time on the impact on children’s rights when children are forced to flee from home because of climate change.

It is vital that states place children’s rights at the heart of international and national climate, humanitarian, disaster risk reduction, development, and migration strategies in order to prevent and minimise children’s displacement, enhance children’s resilience, and facilitate safe and legal migration routes.

Download our report

No Place To Call Home: Protecting children's rights when the changing climate forces them to flee

Download our report