Children Today to See Far More Weather Disasters Than Their Grandparents

Children play in floodwaters after torrential rains in South Jakarta, Indonesia, January 17, 2013.

Children play in floodwaters after torrential rains in South Jakarta, Indonesia, January 17, 2013. Kate Lamb / Voice of America

Under current climate policy, the average child born in 2020 will live through around seven times as many heat waves as someone born in 1960. They will also see roughly twice as many droughts and wildfires and close to three times as many crop failures as their grandparents did, according to a new study.

Climate change will exact a more punishing toll in poorer countries. If world leaders fail to agree to more ambitious policies at the UN climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland in November, children who grow up in Europe or Central Asia will see around four times as many extreme weather events, while those living in sub-Saharan Africa will see roughly six times as many — including 50 times as many heat waves — according to the paper, which was published in the journal Science.

The study, carried out by 37 researchers from around the world, is the first to gauge lifetime exposure to extreme weather across different generations. While its results are sobering, they are likely conservative. Researchers “have strong reasons to think that our calculations underestimate the actual increases that young people will face,” said Vim Thiery, a climate scientist at Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium and lead author of the study.

The study found that if countries were to enact policies needed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C, they would substantially reduce the risk of climate upheaval in the years ahead. Children born today would see 27 percent fewer crop failures, 28 percent fewer droughts, and 40 percent fewer heat waves than are expected under current policies.

The growing threat of extreme weather is already burdening young people today. Three in four say the future is frightening, while around six in 10 say that governments are betraying them, according to a 10-nation survey of people ages 16 to 25. The new research on extreme weather adds greater urgency to the push to limit emissions.

“Our results underline the sheer importance of the Paris Agreement to protect young generations around the world,” Thiery said. “If we manage to drastically reduce our emissions in the coming years, we can still avoid the worst consequences for children worldwide.”