Newborns will face 'seven times more heatwaves than their grandparents'

'People younger than 40 today will live an unprecedented life' due to climate change, professor warns

Two-year-old, Aden Salaad, looks up toward his mother, unseen, as she bathes him in a tub at a Doctors Without Borders hospital, where Aden is receiving treatment for malnutrition, in Dagahaley Camp, outside Dadaab, Kenya, Monday, July 11, 2011. U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres said Sunday that drought-ridden Somalia is the "worst humanitarian disaster" in the world, after meeting with refugees who endured unspeakable hardship to reach the world's largest refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Climate change means babies born today will face significantly more heatwaves than their grandparents did, research has shown.

Children in poor countries and south of the equator will be hit particularly hard, the researchers wrote in the journal Science.

“Our results highlight a severe threat to the safety of young generations and call for drastic emission reductions to safeguard their future,” lead author Prof Wim Thiery said.

The study by the Vrije University Brussels team laid out the dangers for children born today compared with people born 60 years ago.

It found that under current climate policy, newborns will face:

  • Seven times more heatwaves;
  • 2.6 times more droughts;
  • 2.8 times as many river floods;
  • Almost three times as many crop failures;
  • Twice the number of wildfires.

“This basically means that people younger than 40 today will live an unprecedented life even under the most stringent climate change mitigation scenarios”, Prof Thiery said.

Previous research has identified intensified changes for weather events such as droughts or heatwaves but until now it had not quantified how younger generations will experience a different life.

“The combined rapid growth in population and lifetime extreme event exposure highlights a disproportionate climate change burden for young generations in the Global South”, Prof Thiery said.

Somali refugees lead their herds of goats home for the night, inside Dagahaley Camp, outside Dadaab, Kenya, Sunday, July 10, 2011. U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres said Sunday that drought-ridden Somalia is the "worst humanitarian disaster" in the world after meeting with refugees who endured unspeakable hardship to reach the world's largest refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

“And we even have strong reasons to think that our calculations underestimate the actual increases that young people will face.”

The university's team computed lifetime exposure to climate change events for every generation born between 1960 and 2020, for every country in the world and for every global warming scenario between today’s 1°C and 3.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

The results showed that at 3°C global warming, a 6 year old in 2020 would experience twice as many wildfires and tropical cyclones, three times more river floods, four times more crop failures, five times more droughts, and 36 times more heatwaves relative to a person living under pre-industrial climate conditions.

epa08078627 People flock to St Kilda beach as a heatwave sweeps across the state of Victoria, in St Kilda, south of Melbourne, Australia, 18 December 2019. According to media reports, a number of Australian states are bracing for rising temperatures that could exceed 40 degrees Celsius, as a heatwave continues across the country, increasing the risk of bushfires.  EPA/DAVID CROSLING  AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT

Under a 3.5°C warming scenario, children born in 2020 would experience 44 times more heatwaves.

At and above 1.5°C of warming, lifetime exposure to heatwaves, crop failure, drought and river floods for people born after 1980 is unmatched by pre-industrial climate conditions.

“Limiting global warming to 1.5°C instead of following current policy pledges substantially reduces the intergenerational burden for extreme heatwaves, wildfires, crop failures, droughts, tropical cyclones, and river floods,” said Prof Joeri Rogelj, climate change expert at Imperial College London and co-author of the study.

“If we manage to drastically reduce our emissions in the coming years, we can still avoid the worst consequences for children worldwide. At the same time, a sobering message for the youth in low-income countries emerges, where incredibly challenging extreme events are robustly projected, even under the most stringent of climate action futures.”

Young generations in low-income countries will face the strongest increases, with a more than five-fold rise in overall lifetime exposure extreme climate events.

Updated: September 27th 2021, 10:23 AM
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