During his or her lifetime, a child born in 2021 will experience on an average twice as many wildfires, between two and three times more droughts, almost three times more river floods and crop failures, and seven times more heatwaves compared to a person who’s for instance 60 years old today, researchers have said.
This will be the situation worldwide climatically under the current greenhouse gas emission reduction pledges by governments across the world, a topic for negotiation at the upcoming world climate summit COP26 at Glasgow in the UK. World leaders will be discussing mitigation and adaptation measures to be taken to keep the global temperature rise to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to the pre-industrial era.
Based on data from the Inter-sectoral Impact Model Intercomparison Project (ISIMIP), researchers have shown in the journal ‘Science’ how today’s children will be hit much harder by climate extremes than today’s adults. The study ‘Intergenerational inequities in exposure to climate extremes’ was published on Sunday, according to a release by Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Germany.
“Our results highlight a severe threat to the safety of young generations and call for drastic emission reductions to safeguard their future,” said lead author Wim Thiery from Vrije Universiteit Brussel.
“We even have strong reasons to think that our calculations underestimate the actual increases that young people will face.”
Regarding droughts, heatwaves, river floods and crop failures, people under the age of 40 today will live what the researchers call “an unprecedented life”.
“The good news: we can indeed take much of the climate burden from our children’s shoulders if we limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by phasing out fossil fuel use,” says Katja Frieler who is coordinating ISIMIP. She’s a leading scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and co-author of the study.
“If we increase climate protection from current emission reduction pledges and get in line with a 1.5-degree target, we will reduce young people’s potential exposure to extreme events on average by 24 per cent globally. For North America it’s minus 26 per cent, for Europe and Central Asia minus 28 per cent, and in the Middle East and North Africa even minus 39 per cent. This is a huge opportunity.”
For instance, under a scenario of current insufficient climate policies, dangerous heatwaves that affect 15 per cent of global land area today could increase to 46 per cent, hence triple by the end of the century. Yet limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, which is the ambition of the Paris Climate Agreement signed by almost all countries worldwide, would reduce the affected land area to 22 per cent. “This is more than today but significantly less than with unmitigated warming,” she said.
The analysis is the first of its kind. To assess age-dependent extreme event exposure, the researchers took a collection of multi-model climate impact projections from the ISIMIP project building on the work of dozens of research groups worldwide. The researchers combined this with country-scale life-expectancy data, population data and temperature trajectories from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the release added.