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Explained: The burden of climate change on children born today

In terms of experiencing droughts, heatwaves, river floods and crop failures, people under the age of 40 today will live what the researchers call "an unprecedented life".

Children born today will be hit much harder by extreme climate events than today’s adults. (Representational Image)

In a study published in the journal Science, researchers have found that children born today will be hit much harder by extreme climate events than today’s adults. During his or her lifetime, a child born in 2021 is likely to experience on average twice as many wildfires, two to three times more droughts, almost three times more river floods and crop failures and about seven times more heat waves compared to a person who is, say, 60 years old today, the researchers have found.

The study is based on data from the Inter-sectoral Impact Model Intercomparison Project (ISIMIP). This is a community-driven climate-impacts modelling initiative that assess the differential impacts of climate change. The ISIMIP data were used alongside country-scale, life-expectancy data, population data and temperature trajectories from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

A press release issued by the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said that under a scenario of current “insufficient” climate policies, dangerous extreme heatwave events, which affect about 15% of the global land area today, could treble to 46% by the end of this century. However, if countries are able to follow through with their climate policies as decided under the Paris Climate Agreement, this effect could be limited to 22%, which is just seven percentage points more than the global land area that is affected today.

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The release quoted lead author of the study, Wim Thiery from Vrije Universiteit Brussel, as saying: “We even have strong reasons to think that our calculations underestimate the actual increases that young people will face.”

In terms of experiencing droughts, heatwaves, river floods and crop failures, people under the age of 40 today will live what the researchers call “an unprecedented life”.

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The release quoted Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research scientist Katja Frieler, who is coordinating ISIMIP and is a co-author of the study, as saying: “The good news: we can indeed take much of the climate burden from our childrens’ shoulders if we limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by phasing out fossil fuel use. If we increase climate protection from current emission reduction pledges and get in line with a 1.5-degree target, we will reduce young people’s potential exposure to extreme events on average by 24% globally. For North America it’s minus 26%, for Europe and Central Asia minus 28%, and in the Middle East and North Africa even minus 39%. This is a huge opportunity.”

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