Elsewhere in the world, mud engulfed the Japanese town of Atami in Shizuoka Prefecture, torrential rains submerged entire villages in western Germany, and wildfires destroyed the Canadian town of Lytton.
Some of these disasters pose real risks of physical harm to children. Take extreme heat and heat waves: Pregnant women, infants and young children are more prone to heatstroke than older children and most adults because their bodies are not as good at cooling off and staying that way. Studies show that exposure of an unborn child to extreme heat while in utero can lead to negative health outcomes later, such as low birth weight.
For older children, as the number of hot days increases with global warming, they face greater risk of heat exposure in non-air-conditioned schools and outdoor activities such as sports.
This latest IPCC assessment discusses how disasters, acute exposure to one and then long-term recovery from one, can harm the mental health and well-being of everyone affected, especially children.
After a major flood in the United Kingdom in 2000, for example, researchers tracked the health of people whose homes were flooded and those who were not, according to Christie Eby of the University of Washington, who helped co-author the report’s chapter on health. They explained that there was a “clear difference in potential anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorders” between the different groups.
Headline-promoting disasters, which are growing more frequent and more intense, are the clearest signs of how warming of 1.1 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times is playing out. But there are already more climate impacts here, as a new report comprehensively explains.
Even before my daughter was born, for example, two species became extinct, and climate change played a role: the golden toad in Costa Rica in 1990, as well as Australia’s bramble cay melomys, a type of rodent, in 2016. And a third species is dangerously close to extinction: the Australian lemuroid ringtail possum. And even more local extinctions have occurred: climate-related local extinctions have been detected in 47% of the 976 animal and plant species examined.
The impact of climate change on existing problems of food availability and high prices is “a deadly combination for children,” said Cornell University’s Rachel Bezner Kerr, co-author of the IPCC chapter on food systems, “especially in low-income countries, especially low-income families, especially in rural areas.”
“So we have a study that shows between 1993 and 2012, increased temperatures are significantly associated with child stunting in 30 countries in Africa,” he said. According to the World Health Organization, wasting refers to a child who is too thin for their height.
Malnutrition is already a big problem among children in some developing countries, and the problem will only get bigger in a warming world if concrete action is not taken to avoid that possibility.
How hot will it be during my daughter’s lifetime?
When world leaders signed the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016, they agreed to jointly limit global warming from 2 degrees Celsius (about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Now scientists predict that global average temperatures are likely to exceed 1.5 degrees in the coming decades, no matter what. This could happen by 2030 when my daughter is only 10 years old.
That’s why the next few years are so important. How quickly people cut their greenhouse gas emissions this decade will help dictate how the 1.5-degree limit is exceeded and what happens next. Will temperatures continue to rise or will they start to fall back?
Furthermore, what people do now to adapt to warming that is already here and locked into the future will reduce the damage associated with the crisis.
For example, by 2030, countries are likely to adopt a bold target of protecting at least 30% of the planet’s land and water. If so, it can do everything from keeping certain species alive, to strengthening natural ecosystems that protect against floods, to helping absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and more. And if China transitions to a half-decarbonized electricity supply for homes and vehicles by 2030, the country can expect to prevent 55,000-69,000 deaths in that year, according to the report.
By 2030, urban areas could increase exposure to flooding by 2.7 times compared to 2000, or an additional 48,000 children under the age of 15 globally could die of diarrhea or increase the number of people living in extreme poverty. 122 million increase, or severe droughts in the Amazon will accelerate the migration of traditional communities and indigenous peoples to cities or to some small islands where freshwater is severely limited.
By 2040, when my daughter is 20, the glacier on Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, may be gone.