Under current global climate policies, children born in 2021 worldwide face a dire future of climate disasters with disproportionate rates of flooding, heatwaves, droughts, wildfires and crop failures compared to their grandparents, according to a study published Sunday.
The study, published in the journal Science, found that children born in 2021 will on average live on an Earth with seven times more heatwaves, twice as many wildfires, and almost three times as many droughts, river floods and crop failures as people born 60 years ago.
“This basically means that people younger than 40 today will live an unprecedented life even under the most stringent climate change mitigation scenarios,” lead author Wim Thiery said in a statement. “Our results highlight a severe threat to the safety of young generations and call for drastic emission reductions to safeguard their future.”
Vrije Universiteit Brussel, a public university in Belgium, led the study, which included an international team of more than 30 researchers from universities including Imperial College London and the University of Nottingham in England.
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Children who will suffer through “climate extremes” unfairly face the consequences of the inaction of today’s adults, study co-author Joeri Rogelj said in the statement.
Reducing emissions can make a difference, Rogelj added.
“With this study we lay bare the fundamental injustice of climate change across generations, as well as the responsibilities of today’s adults and elders in power,” he said.
These extreme climate events will also disproportionately affect children in developing countries, said researchers who computed lifetime exposures to climate events for every generation born between 1960 and 2020 in every country across the globe.
In sub-Saharan Africa, 172 million children face a sixfold increase in extreme events over their lifetimes and 50 times more heatwaves. This compares to 53 million children of the same age born in Europe and Central Asia, who will face about four times more extreme events as their grandparents, according to the statement.
While current policies put the world on course for a warming of 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, according to the statement from the researchers, meeting the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees would significantly reduce the burden of extreme climate events on the next generation.
Co-author Simon Gosling supported setting more ambitious plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Our research shows very clearly the responsibility that the current generation holds for future generations in terms of climate change,” Gosling said in the statement, which praised efforts by the world’s youth to increase climate change awareness through school strikes and protests.