Climate change

Today’s youth to bear the brunt of unmatched climate extremes compared to older generations

The youth of the current generation will bear the brunt of unmatched climate extremes as compared to the older generation.

A new study published in the Science journal has found that people born in 2020 will have to face between two and seven times more extreme climate-related events over their lifetime than those born in 1960.

The study estimates that people born in 1960 will experience four heatwaves but children born in 2020 will have to face 30 over their lifetime.

The paper analyzed six climate extreme event categories; crop failures, droughts, and heatwaves. 

It finds that even if warming is limited to 1.5C, younger generations will face “unavoidable impacts that are unmatched by those experienced by older generations” over the course of their lives.

The research found a “particularly strong increase” in childrens’ future exposure to extremes in the Middle East and North Africa. 

They add younger generations from low-income countries will face greater exposure to extremes than children in high-income countries.

Today’s youth will live “an unprecedented life”, in which they will “face conditions which older generations have never experienced”, the lead author Prof Wim Thiery from Vrije Universiteit Brussel told Carbon Brief.

Carbon Brief analysis has earlier noted that in order to limit global warming to 1.5C, today’s youth will need to emit eight times less CO2 than their grandparents did over their lifetimes.

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The younger generations will inevitably face the worst impacts of climate change, despite contributing the least towards carbon emissions. The youth will therefore need to be a driving force to fight for intergenerational climate justice.

This study aims to expand the “scientific perspective” behind intergenerational climate justice arguments, by estimating how many extreme climate-related events people of different ages, and living in different countries, can expect over their lifetimes.

The lead author says the paper used a “new framework” to assess exposure to extreme climate-linked events by looking at a person’s lifespan, rather than comparing two separate time periods.

“In climate science, we tend to compare two-time windows – present and future scenarios, or 1.5C and 2C worlds. But in this study, we consider the perspective of a person, born in a particular moment, living a particular lifespan, and experiencing climate extremes throughout their life.

“Our method brings together datasets that have never been considered together – extreme event simulations and warming trajectories on the one hand, and demographic data such as life expectancy and population density on the other hand.”

Historical changes in climate impacts have had “little to no effect” on the exposure of over-55s to climate extremes. However, the authors note that this changes for younger groups, who will “start experiencing impacts in the coming years and decades”.

For instance, the paper estimates that in a 3C warming scenario, when averaging across the globe, a child who turns six in 2020 will 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 over their lifetime than a six-year-old living in a pre-industrial climate.

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