Climate change is already damaging children's health worldwide and could shape the well-being of an entire generation – unless the world meets the Paris Agreement targets to limit warming to well below 3.6 degrees F, according to a new report published Wednesday by the British health journal, The Lancet.
According to the report, if the world continues its business-as-usual path – with high carbon dioxide emissions and climate change continuing at the current rate – a child born today will face a world on average over 7 degrees F warmer by their 71st birthday, threatening their health at every stage of their lives.
"Children are particularly vulnerable to the health risks of a changing climate. Their bodies and immune systems are still developing, leaving them more susceptible to disease and environmental pollutants," said Dr. Nick Watts, a report co-author and executive director of the Lancet Countdown.
"The damage done in early childhood is persistent and pervasive, with health consequences lasting for a lifetime," Watts said. "Without immediate action from all countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions, gains in well-being and life expectancy will be compromised, and climate change will come to define the health of an entire generation."
The report, titled The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, is a collaboration among 120 climate and health experts from 35 institutions around the globe.
The report stated that as temperatures rise, harvests will shrink – threatening food security and driving up food prices. Infants and small children are among the worst affected by malnutrition and related health problems such as stunted growth, weak immune systems, and long-term developmental problems.
In addition, children will be especially susceptible to the infectious diseases that rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns will leave in their wake. 2018 was the second-most climatically suitable year on record for the spread of bacteria that cause much of diarrheal disease and wound infection around the world.
"This year, the accelerating impacts of climate change have become clearer than ever", said Hugh Montgomery, co-chair of The Lancet Countdown and a professor from University College, London.
"The highest recorded temperatures in Western Europe and wildfires in Siberia, Queensland, and California triggered asthma, respiratory infections and heat stroke," he said. "Sea levels are now rising at an ever concerning rate. Our children recognize this climate emergency and demand action to protect them. We must listen, and respond."
Extreme weather events will intensify into adulthood, the report found, with 152 out of 196 countries experiencing an increase in people exposed to wildfires since 2001-04, and a record 220 million more people over 65 exposed to heatwaves in 2018, when compared with 2000.
For the world to meet its U.N. climate goals and protect the health of the next generation, the energy landscape will have to change drastically, and soon, the report warned. Nothing short of a 7.4% year-on-year cut in carbon dioxide emissions from 2019 to 2050 will limit global warming to the more ambitious goal of 2.7 degrees F.
"The path that the world chooses today will irreversibly mark our children's futures", said co-author Dr. Stella Hartinger from Cayetano Heredia University in Peru. "We must listen to the millions of young people who have led the wave of school strikes for urgent action.
"It will take the work of 7.5 billion people currently alive to ensure that the health of a child born today isn't defined by a changing climate," she said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Climate change is damaging the health of the world's children