The IPCC says we’re killing our children (they don’t actually, not in so many words, but it’s true enough)

This is something I wrote a couple of weeks ago when the latest IPCC report was hot off the presses. It was mouldering on a few press desks for a while but didn’t find a published home, so, while it’s a little out of date now, I’m putting it up here because in all the noise around the report I haven’t seen anything about what it all means for children – which is kind of my job…

(kudos to the wonderful media team in our Melbourne office who made this much shorter and better than it was when I first wrote it)

It’s been less than a week since the world’s leading climate scientists issued their starkest warning yet through the release of a new global report on the impacts of climate change.

Making global headlines, the report named humans as the ‘dominant cause’ of global warming, and its authors (a panel of scientists and policy makers known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), could not have given a clearer call for action.

A product of seven years’ research and review by 195 countries and thousands of scientists worldwide, the report provides a coherent global picture of what science as a whole tells us about what is happening to our climate. Representatives from all 195 countries, including Australia, are required to approve the report line by line – only the most certain and verifiable facts make it through.

The picture that emerges is, frankly, one that would make every parent wonder what type of world they are leaving for their children?

The long and short of it is that regardless of what the world does now to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (like carbon dioxide), we are locked into at least 1.5 degrees of warming from the gases we have already emitted since industrialisation.

An additional 1.5 degrees may not sound too bad, but it’s the flow on effects we should be concerned with. Extreme weather events like bushfires, tropical cyclones, floods and droughts will become not only more frequent, but more intense. We will see more hot days and less cool nights. More heat waves that last longer. A higher disease burden. More invasive species. The list goes on.

As with many intergenerational issues, it is those least responsible who will bear the brunt of the impacts. Today’s children are exposed to a broader and more intense range of ‘natural’ hazards. Today’s children will also be the ones who inherit the mess we are creating.

Australia is a wealthy country with good infrastructure. We will probably be okay in the medium term – not because we won’t have extreme weather events, but because we are in a better position to cope with them.

But what about children and communities in poorer places in our region? On any metric, poor children in countries like Bangladesh, Vanuatu and Vietnam are the least responsible for this problem – but have the misfortune to live in places more exposed to climate-induced hazards (floods, monsoons, cyclones) while going without the infrastructure to protect them from these hazards, let alone the new and more intense challenges future climate change will bring.

That’s why organisations like Save the Children are working in these and other countries to increase understanding of climate change and help children and communities plan and prepare for the much harsher climate we know is coming.

And we’re making progress: children in Bangladesh’s urban slums are learning about what kinds of livelihood options make sense in a changing climate, while those in Vanuatu may soon be taught about climate change in school as part of the national curriculum. In Vietnam farming families now better understand the implications of climate change on their traditional livelihoods and are developing adaptive strategies to ensure they do not slip back into grinding poverty.

While this is a start, the hard truth is it’s a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed.

But instead of pitching in to help the children who need it now more than ever, a reversal of sorts is taking place in Australia.

With the Coalition Government having cut $4.5 billion from the aid budget and the new Foreign Minister on the record stating climate change programs should not be funded by AusAID, it’s not likely that additional funding will become available anytime soon for climate change programs like the ones in Bangladesh, Vietnam or Vanuatu.

Meanwhile, information about the impacts of climate change is also less likely to be available with the closing of both the Climate Commission and the Climate Change Authority, national bodies set up to provide independent, non-partisan information and advice to the government on how best to address the negative impacts of climate change. Without this advice, the chances of government providing additional funding for initiatives that equip vulnerable families to adapt to climate change, risk becoming increasingly scarce.

But with the evidence stacking up on human causes of climate change, we cannot ignore our role in all of this. According to our own government’s statistics, Australia is one of the top 20 polluting countries worldwide and produces more carbon pollution per person than any other developed country.

Now more than ever, it is imperative that we remember how our emissions are making life harder for children in Bangladesh, Vanuatu, Vietnam and many other countries, where, more often than not, life is hard enough already.

Now more than ever is also the time to remember: our aid is helping, but the job is far from done.


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