Children born in 2021 will live through unprecedented climate extremes, including more droughts, heatwaves, floods, and bushfires than people born 60 years ago.
Research has shown that children born today will endure “unprecedented sequences of climate extremes” throughout their lives, including seven times more heatwaves than their grandparents.
According to the study published in the journal Science this week, they will also experience 2.6 times more droughts, 2.8 times more floods, nearly three times as many crop failures, and twice the number of wildfires as people born 60 years ago.
Children in worst-hit areas were also predicted to face more than a fivefold increase in overall lifetime extreme event exposure.
While 53 million children born in Europe and Central Asia since 2016 were to experience four times more extreme events, 172 million of the same-aged children in sub-Saharan Africa would live through an almost sixfold increase in excessive event exposure, including 50 times more heatwaves.
Suppose global climate policies remain unchanged from their current state. In that case, global warming will pose a “severe threat to the safety of young generations”, said the lead author of the study, Professor Wim Thiery from Vrije Universiteit in Brussels.
“The consequence of children suffering unprecedented sequences of climate extremes throughout their lives can now be attributed to the inaction of today’s adults,” said co-author Dr. Joeri Rogelj from Imperial College London.
“It also shows how much can be gained by ambitious emissions reductions.” Researchers analyzed lifetime exposure to droughts, heatwaves, crop failures, river floods, tropical cyclones, and wildfires for every generation born between 1960 and 2020.
They measured the exposure for every country globally and every global warming scenario between the current 1 degree and 3.5 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures.
Scientists also compared climate extreme exposure of current generations with a hypothetical reference person who would have experienced pre-industrial climate conditions at the end of the 19th Century.
The results revealed that three degrees of warming would mean a six-year-old in 2020 would experience 36 times more heatwaves, twice as many wildfires and tropical cyclones, three times more river floods, four times more crop failures, five times more droughts.
Additionally, 3.5 degrees of warming would mean children born in 2020 would live through 44 times more heatwaves. Even if warming climbed to just 1.5 degrees, people born after 1980 would experience more heatwaves, crop failures, droughts, and river floods than pre-industrial climate conditions.
“This means that people younger than 40 today will live an unprecedented life even under the most stringent climate change mitigation scenarios,” Prof Thiery said.
“Our results highlight a severe threat to the safety of young generations and call for drastic emission reductions to safeguard their future.”