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UN warns of key climate change risks for children

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UNICEF's report showed that more than 550 million children, including about 2.2 million in Cambodia, are facing frequent heat waves. Heng Chivoan

UN warns of key climate change risks for children

Following the release of a new in-house report, UNICEF has called on governments to protect children from the effects of climate change.

The report showed that more than 550 million children, including about 2.2 million in Cambodia, are facing frequent heat waves. This has prompted the organisation to take immediate action to increase funding to protect children and vulnerable communities from worsening heat waves and other climate disasters.

“[Around] 559 million children, or one in four, are currently affected by the effects of heat waves. In addition, 624 million children, or one in three, are affected by higher temperatures,” the UN agency said in an October 26 statement.

The three measurements taken to study extremes of temperature are long-term heat waves, heat wave intensity, and extreme temperatures.

“Cambodia is among the countries affected, with 2.2 million children, or 37.1 per cent of the total number of children in the country, frequently exposed to heat waves,” it noted.

The UN agency added that heat waves are especially harmful to children because they cannot adapt their body temperature as efficiently as adults. Children who are exposed to heat waves are more prone to health problems.

These include chronic respiratory infections, asthma and cardiovascular disease. Infants and young children are more likely to die from heatstroke. Heat waves also affect the environment, nutrition, water sources, education and the future lives of children.

In Cambodia, even if the global warming is restricted to 1.7 degrees Celsius or slightly lower, all Cambodian children will be affected by four heat waves per year, four times higher than at present. It said 55.7 per cent of children will experience extreme temperatures, with more than 83 days a year having daily highs above 35C, said UNICEF.

It added that if global warming reaches 2.4C, not only will 100 per cent of Cambodian children will be exposed to heat waves more than 4.5 times a year, more than 87.2 per cent of them will definitely experience extremely high temperature conditions.

“This means that Cambodia will become the 21st country in the world to be severely affected by this phenomenon. A UNICEF report released in 2021 has already identified Cambodia as one of the 50 countries most at risk from the effects of climate change,” said the report.

Anirban Chatterjee, UNICEF Cambodia’s acting representative, said climate change is already endangering the lives and wellbeing of Cambodian children, but the report showed that in the future, Cambodia will become one of the worst affected countries in the world.

“We are working closely with the government of Cambodia to address the challenges of climate change and protect the environment. A key pillar of this work is collaboration with key ministries to assess hazards and develop climate-resilient services and systems,” he said.

He added that UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport to ensure that children are educated about climate change and the positive actions they can take to protect their communities from the effects of climate change and erosion of the environment.

UNICEF, meanwhile, has called on governments to protect children from climate change by improving responsive social services such as clean water and sanitation, health, education, nutrition and social protection for children and youths.

“Governments need to prepare children and youth to adapt to a climate-changing world by educating them about climate change, disaster risk reduction, green skills training and opportunities to participate in creating and providing influential inputs to climate change policy making,” it said.

According to the report, titled “Coldest Year of the Rest of their Lives: Protecting Children from the Escalating Impacts of Heatwaves”, by 2050, an estimated 2.02 billion children worldwide will be affected by frequent heat waves. At least 23 countries, including Cambodia, are classified as having the highest risk for children.

Neth Pheaktra, spokesman for the Ministry of Environment, said Cambodia is one of 49 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) signatories that has submitted its climate change strategy to the UNFCCC Secretariat. The Kingdom was the second-least developed country to set out plan to become carbon-neutral by 2050.

He said this is a testament to the country’s strong commitment and political will to address climate change.

“Although Cambodia makes a small contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, through this strategy, the Kingdom has demonstrated its willingness to engage with the international community to address climate change. This should be based on the principle of collective responsibility, but at different levels depending on their respective capabilities,” he told The Post.

He added that previous increases in temperature had affected children, so his ministry had worked with the education ministry to inform schools to install additional fans and ensure classrooms had adequate space for air to circulate.

“The environment ministry has held environmentally friendly school competitions. These contests encourage schools to become greener, with more trees. This is one of the mechanisms for adapting to climate change which we have introduced,” he said.

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