A child born in 2021 will experience an average of seven times as many heat waves, twice as many forest fires and nearly three times as many droughts, crop failures and river floods as their grandparents, study finds published Sunday that examines how different generations will be affected by climate change.
The findings, published in the journal Science, revealed that global warming will disproportionately affect the lives of young people and children, especially when it comes to extreme events made worse by climate change. The research is the first to thoroughly model extreme events and future climate scenarios and apply the projections to all demographic groups to quantify how people of different age groups around the world will experience climate disasters over the course of of their life.
The outlook is troubling if the pace of global warming continues unchecked, said Wim Thiery, climatologist at Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium, who led the research.
“We have found that all people under 40 will now live an unprecedented life in terms of lifetime exposure to heat waves, droughts and floods,” Thiery said. “This is true even in the most conservative scenarios.”
The study shows glaring intergenerational inequalities across the board, but the researchers said climate change would affect children in developing countries even more. The burden will remain disproportionate even with the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that countries have committed to under the Paris Agreement, a global climate pact signed by more than 190 countries.
With what has been promised now, 172 million children in sub-Saharan Africa could experience 50 times as many heat waves and a six-fold increase in extreme events in their lifetime, compared to 53 million children in the same age group. age in Europe and Central Asia, the researchers said.
While the results are already worrying, Thiery said the impacts on people’s lives are likely to be even greater than the study estimates. This is because the researchers focused only on the frequency of extreme events, which does not take into account their duration and severity.
Studies have shown that climate change makes events such as heat waves, droughts and forest fires not only more likely to occur, but also more intense.
“We do not take into account that a bad heat wave could last twice as long in the future as it is today,” said Thiery.
He added that the researchers also looked at extreme events in isolation, meaning the study did not cover how the impacts of such disasters might be magnified if they coincide.
“There is a tendency for these things to happen at the same time,” Thiery said. “Think of heat waves and droughts or river flooding and tropical cyclones.”
But, Thiery said, there are reasons to be hopeful. If countries can drastically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and limit the effects of global warming, some of the study’s most dire scenarios can be avoided, he said.
Young people have been at the forefront of climate activism, with movements like the “Fridays for Future” protests demanding action from governments. Discussions will be particularly important in the coming weeks as world leaders are set to meet from October 31 to November 12 in Glasgow, Scotland for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, where countries are expected to set targets. ambitious reduction in emissions. by 2030.
“It should be a call to action,” Thiery said. “We have it in our hands to avoid the worst of global warming. For all of us alive today, we must fight climate change.”