Heatwaves threaten every child, UNICEF report

Heatwaves are set to affect almost every child on earth by 2050, according to a new UNICEF report supported by Edinburgh scientists.

Child cooling with H20
Child cooling down in extreme heat. Credit, Getty images, Ales Veluscek

Severe heatwaves

At least half a billion children are estimated to be exposed to a high number of heatwaves already, and by the middle of this century the world’s 2.02 billion children will be subjected to worsening conditions, academics say.

Even with lower levels of global warming, in just three decades, more frequent, more severe and longer lasting heatwaves will be unavoidable. The importance of emissions mitigation and adaptation measures to protect children’s lives is increasingly urgent, UNICEF experts say.

Specialist data

Researchers from Edinburgh played a critical role in developing detailed climate data for the report, along with academic partners from the Universities of Stirling and Southampton.

The report – The Coldest Year Of The Rest Of Their Lives: Protecting Children From The Escalating Impacts Of Heatwaves – was produced in collaboration with The Data for Children Collaborative, a specialist hub within the University’s Edinburgh Futures Institute.

Health risks

Heatwaves are especially damaging to children, as they are less able to regulate their body temperature compared to adults. The more heatwaves children are exposed to, the greater the chance of health problems including chronic respiratory conditions, asthma, and cardiovascular diseases.

Babies and young children are at the greatest risk of heat-related mortality. Heatwaves can also affect children’s environments – their safety, nutrition, access to water, education and their future livelihoods.

Extreme temperatures

According to the report, millions more children will be exposed to high heatwave severity and extreme high temperatures depending on the degree of global warming reached.

Children in northern regions, especially Europe, will face the most dramatic increases in severe heatwaves and, by 2050, nearly half of all children in Africa and Asia will face sustained exposure to extreme high temperatures.

The mercury is rising and so are the impacts on children, Already, one in three children live in countries that face extreme high temperatures and almost one in four children are exposed to high heatwave frequency, and it is only going to get worse.

“More children will be impacted by longer, hotter and more frequent heatwaves over the next thirty years, threatening their health and wellbeing. How devastating these changes will be depends on the actions we take now. At a minimum, governments must urgently limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius and double adaptation funding by 2025. This is the only way to save children’s lives and futures – and the future of the planet.

Catherine RussellUNICEF, Executive Director

The climate shocks of 2022 provided a strong wakeup call about the increasing danger hurtling towards us. Heatwaves are a clear example. As hot as this year has been in almost every corner of the world, it will likely be the coldest year of the rest of our lives. “The dial is being turned up on our planet and yet our world leaders haven’t begun to sweat. The only option is for us to continue to turn up the heat - on them - to correct the course we are on.

Vanessa NakateClimate activist and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador

Related links

UNICEF report  

Data for Children Collaborative    

Edinburgh Futures Institute    

University of Stirling 

University of Southampton