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Dramatic increase in forced displacement of children due to the climate crisis

In a new report released today, UNICEF reveals that the number of Caribbean children displaced by storms has risen approximately six-fold in the past five years. Catastrophic tropical cyclones and hurricanes uprooted an estimated 761,000 children in the region between 2014 and 2018, which also was the hottest five-year period on record. The preceding five-year period, 2009 to 2013, saw some 175,000 Caribbean youngsters displaced.

But it is not just in the Caribbean that the climate emergency is having a real impact on children’s life: the World Bank has put forward projections for internal climate migration amounting to 143 million people by 2050 in three regions of the world if no climate action is taken.

“This report is a stark reminder that the climate crisis is a child rights crisis,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore in a statement.

The primary cause of this dramatic increase in forced displacement was a series of catastrophic tropical cyclones or hurricanes that hit the region between 2016 and 2018 – including four Category 5 and two Category 4 storms. Across the world, more than 42 million new displacements were recorded – around 18 million more than the average for the last ten years.

Children are particularly vulnerable during population displacements, especially if their parents are killed or if they are separated from their families in the chaos of the event. Alone, children are exposed to a higher risk of violence, exploitation and trafficking. They are also more vulnerable to opportunistic diseases such as measles and respiratory infections, which can thrive in overcrowded conditions in emergency shelters.

The report, “Children uprooted in the Caribbean: How stronger hurricanes linked to a changing climate are driving child displacement”, warns that without urgent climate action, displacement levels are likely to remain high in the coming decades and earlier this week the 25th UN Climate Conference, known as COP25, opened in Madrid with an urgent message: the global climate crisis could soon reach the “point of no return” as the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Sunday.

“We are confronted now with a global climate crisis,” he said. “The point of no return is no longer over the horizon. It is in sight and hurtling towards us.”

The Madrid meeting is the last gathering of the COP group before 2020, the year when the Paris agreement comes into effect. When nations signed the deal back in 2015, they agreed that global emissions of greenhouse gases must peak in 2020 at the latest, and then start coming down or the world will face disastrous and irreversible damage.

Under current scenarios, emissions will need to fall by 7.6% every year in the next decade.
That will require most countries to up their commitments ahead of the next COP meeting in Glasgow next November. According to the UN, if we rely only on the current climate plans, temperatures can be expected to rise by 3.2 degrees this century.

As forecast in the latest report of the IPCC for the end of the 21st century, three consequences of global warming appear to be the most threatening potential causes of displacement: the increase in the strength of tropical hurricanes and the frequency of heavy rains and flooding, due to the rise in evaporation with increased temperatures; the growth in the number of droughts, with evaporation contributing to a decrease in soil humidity, often associated with food shortages and the increase in sea levels resulting from both water expansion and melting ice.

According to the Environmental Justice Foundation, climate change also acts as a ‘threat multiplier’ and increases the chance of violent conflict from pre-existing political, economic, religious and ethnic forces. In Syria, around 1.3 to 1.5 million people were already on the move from drought-stricken regions before a single shot was fired.

“Children in storm and flood-prone nations around the world are among the most vulnerable to having their lives and rights upended. They are already feeling the impacts of climate change, so governments and the international community should act now to mitigate its most devastating consequences,” Fore said.

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