Climate Extremes Likely to Mar Future Generations

Although richer countries are largely to blame for greenhouse gas emissions, children in low-income nations will bear the brunt of the climate crisis.

Activists demonstrating against global warming
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Children of the future beware, a new study estimates that extreme weather events will become the new normal, especially in low-income countries. 

Unless we drastically slash emissions in order to prevent the average global temperature from rising by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) from pre-industrial levels, which seems increasingly unlikely, the children of today will face at least 30 scorching heatwaves during their lifetimes, seven times more than their grandparents, says the study, which was published this week in the journal Science. 

“In addition, they will on average live through 2.6 times more droughts, 2.8 times as many river floods, almost three times as many crop failures, and twice the number of wildfires as people born 60 years ago,” the study says.

That means that even though younger generations have barely contributed to the huge rise in emissions that the world has seen since the 1990s they will be the ones suffering the consequences.

“The kids aren't alright,” tweeted lead author Wim Thiery, a climate scientist at Vrije Universiteit Brussel. 

Children living in impoverished countries in Sub-saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, will endure a much higher number of extreme weather events, the authors found. 

“The combined rapid growth in population and lifetime extreme event exposure highlights a disproportionate climate change burden for young generations in the Global South,” Thiery said in a press statement. “And we even have strong reasons to think that our calculations underestimate the actual increases that young people will face.”

Save the Children, which collaborated in the study, noted that although high-income countries are responsible for around 90% of historical emissions, impoverished nations will suffer the brunt of the climate crisis.

“It is the children of low- and middle-income countries that bear the brunt of losses and damage to health and human capital, land, cultural heritage, indigenous and local knowledge, and biodiversity as a result of climate change,” the non-profit said in a report.

As Carbon Brief points out, it is important to bear in mind that the research only looks into the frequency of severe weather events but does not seek to forecast whether those events will be more severe, or last longer, than in the past. And it only analyzes potential exposure to six events (heatwaves, wildfires, crop failures, droughts, floods, and tropical storms) — it does not take into account other climate change effects such as sea-level rise or coastal flooding.

Dwindling Hopes

The authors said that limiting the temperature increase under 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) will significantly reduce these risks but the global average temperature has already risen by nearly 2.14 degrees Fahrenheit (1.19 degrees Celsius), and a sobering United Nations report issued last month indicated that unless we drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, our planet will keep getting warmer.

The U.N. recently said the climate action plans of nearly 200 countries would actually lead to higher emissions over the next decade, which would put the world on track for a temperature increase of nearly 5 degrees Fahrenheit (2.7 degrees Celsius) by the end of the century. 

If such a scenario was to materialize, children today will face well over 100 heatwaves during their lives, while the number of other extreme weather events would also increase exponentially when compared to more benign scenarios.

The world’s hopes lie on the COP26 summit slated to take place in Scotland in early November but senior officials have already indicated that global leaders are unlikely to announce plans to dramatically reduce emissions and even if they do, politicians tend to issue far-away targets that they rarely meet. 

“Build back better. Blah, blah, blah. Green economy. Blah, blah, blah. Net Zero by 2050. Blah, blah, blah,” Greta Thunberg said on Tuesday in a scorching speech at the Youth4Climate summit in Milan, Italy. “This is all we hear from our so-called leaders. Words, words that sound great but so far have not led to action. Our hopes and dreams drown in their empty words and promises.”

View Article Sources
  1. Thiery, Wim, et al. "Intergenerational Inequities in Exposure to Climate Extremes." Science, 2021, doi:10.1126/science.abi7339

  2. Ritchie, Hannah, and Max Roser. "CO2 Emissions." Our World in Data.