A newborn baby hasn’t even had time to contribute –as we all do, with our consumption and eating habits and fuel use– to the emissions of polluting gases that cause global warming.
Nevertheless, this baby will suffer exponentially more than his grandparents with the climate changes underway on the planet.
In practice, children born in 2020 must experience an average of seven times more extreme heat waves over their lifetime than someone who was born in 86. In some countries, this increase is up to ten times.
The conclusions are from a recent study published in the journal Science, based on projections on the size and age of the global population, future temperatures and climatic events extremes, based on information from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
If, in addition to heat waves, other types of extreme weather events are placed in this account, it is estimated that the new generation will experience an average 2 to 7 times higher incidence of fires, droughts, floods, tropical storms and crop failures (less profitable crops) over their lifetimes compared to the born generation 60 years ago.
“The younger you are, the greater the increase in exposure to extreme weather. In other words, the generations younger people have the most to lose, especially newborns”, explains to BBC News Brasil the main author of the study, cientis Wim Thiery, from the Vrije University of Brussels (Belgium).
“We can also think the other way around: the younger you are, the more you can benefit if we increase our ambitions and reduce global warming “, especially if it is possible to keep warming within the limit of up to 1.5°C established in the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, which has become an increasingly remote goal , in the view of many climate watchers.
“For younger generations, raising ambitions has a direct effect on their lives,” concludes Thiery.
From the heat from almost 45°C in the Canadian summer to floods in Germany and longer droughts in Brazil, extreme weather events are one of the main direct consequences of climate change.
According to an important IPCC report released in August, the entire planet is already facing changes in the water cycle, which cause from more voluminous rains – and floods es–, even more intense droughts.
“Under global warming of 1.5°C, there will be increased heat waves, longer warm seasons and shorter cold seasons,” explained the panel in August.
If this increase in global temperature is even greater, at 2°C, “hot extremes will more often reach tolerance limits for agriculture and health”.
If, because they have more time to live, children will be the most affected, Thiery and his colleagues say that global warming already leaves the entire global population subject to an “unprecedented life”.
“We found that all people who have between zero and 50 years today will live an unprecedented life, with more heat waves and crop failures, regardless of their age or the extent of climate change”, says the scientist.
“Those who are younger than 40 will, in addition, suffer from much more flooding s and droughts, even in the most ambitious warming scenario of up to 1.5°C. The youngest have the most to lose, but everyone alive today is under conditions that we call ‘unnavigated territory.'”
To show this more concretely, Vrije University created a calculator called My Climate Future.
In it, a person can predict the increase of climate events in his life from the year he was born, from the place where lives and based on three scenarios – the most optimistic, of a 1.5°C warmer planet; the median, on average 2.4°C warmer, based on the current trajectory and the climate promises and commitments made so far ; and a more pessimistic and highly hot one.
The regions of the world where suffering will be most acute and felt by more people, according to Thiery’s calculations, are the Middle East and North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.
But estimates for the rest of the world are far from encouraging.
In Latin America, a child born is m 2015 will face, in relation to someone born in 86:
– 50% more likely to suffer from fires
– Two and a half times more likely to live under crop failures
– Double droughts and floods
– 4.5 times more heat waves
“And we have scientific reasons to believe that the numbers are underrated. Because we only analyze frequency changes in extreme events, but they also change in intensity (like more intense hurricanes) and in duration (like longer, hotter heat waves)”, continues Wim Thiery.
The effects of this are felt in a chain: heat waves harm health, leaving children and the elderly, in particular, more subject to hospitalization. Crop failures affect the price and food supply. Floods, floods, and droughts intensify global migratory movements.
And again, the younger and poorer the people affected, the greater their burden.
“Although we did not quantify this in our study, there is no doubt that this increase in exposure to climate change has consequences, for example, in the ability to learn, in health, mortality and labor productivity”, he points out. Thiery.
“That’s why we say that limiting global warming is a matter of protecting the future young generations.”
The scientist’s and his colleagues’ conclusions helped to support a report by the NGO Save the Children on the unequal and unfair burden of climate change on those who contributed least to the crisis.
“When ranked by income, the richest 45% countries account for 205% of the cumulative global emissions of CO2, while the poorer half accounts for only 26%”, says the NGO.
“Nevertheless, it is children from low- and middle-income countries which will face the greatest burden of loss and damage to health and human capital, land, cultural heritage, indigenous and local knowledge and biodiversity resulting from climate change. (…) They inherited a problem that was not caused by them.”
Thiery uses more numbers to highlight this unequal weight, first on children and secondly on poor children , in regions that are still undergoing population growth.
“In Europe and Central Asia, 64 millions of children between 2010 and 2015. These children will face four times more extreme weather under current conditions than someone who lived in a world without climate change”, he says.
“However, in this same period of 2020 to 2015, millions of children were born 86 in sub-Saharan Africa, who will face six times more climatic extremes. So not only will they suffer more, they are also a more numerous group.”
Therefore, the scientist argues, mitigating the effects of climate change is a matter of “intergenerational and international justice”.
The most recent climate conference (COP40) in Glasgow concluded in 14 November with advances and limitations.
On the one hand, the final agreement of the event talks about cutting CO2
emissions by 45% up to 2030 compared to 2010 and requires countries to present new commitments to reduce greenhouse gases as early as next year.
However, there was no consensus around ending the use of coal and subsidies to fossil fuels, one of the main “villains” of global warming.
In general, the perception of environmentalists is that the commitments made so far by the countries seem to be insufficient to ensure that the Earth won’t heat more than 1.5°C.
Not by chance, argues Thiery, the makers of these commitments are older people, who won’t have time to feel most of the effects on their skin. climate changes of the future.
“That’s why the younger people became organizers of protests and strikes calling for more ambitious climate policies – because the people who occupy the spaces of power today should not feel the consequences of their decisions, generating a potential intergenerational conflict”, he says.
He recalls that there is already an international wave of climate-related lawsuits being filed against governments in various parts of the world -many of these lawsuits filed by young people who are they feel their human rights are hurt by climate policies.
Overall, says the scientist, the perception that climate change is a problem in the distant future that will harm abstract people has changed , not yet born.
“The ones of shows that it is (a problem that) is here, now, affecting all the people of the world: all generations living today, in all countries, especially the younger ones, will suffer the negative consequences”, he adds, to conclude:
“The outlook is grim, but there is also a clear message that if we reduce climate change, we will reduce this escalation of weather extremes and protect the future of real people, who are already alive.”