Written by Stephanny Ulivieri, edited by Evi Konstantinopoulou

Global weather patterns and circumstances  have already undergone irreversible changes because of climate change, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2022). In turn, demographic trends, particularly the rising number of children and youth in areas with a high vulnerability to climate change, are impacted by these negative effects (UNICEF, et al., 2022). Therefore, it can be expected that younger generations will experience more of these occurrences throughout their lifetime than older generations. And this brings up significant questions of intergenerational equity that have been raised in recent climate lawsuits and that have been the driving force behind worldwide youth-led climate protests (Thiery, et al., 2021). 

According to a new modeling developed by an international team of climate researchers led by the Vrije Universiteit Brussels, a child born in 2020 is set to experience on average twice as many wildfires, 2.8 times the exposure to crop failure, 2.6 times as many drought events, 2.8 times as many river floods, and 6.8 times more heatwaves over the course of their lifetime than a person born in 1960 (Ryan, Wakefield, & Luthen, 2021). Moreover, the number of youngsters moving about has been steadily rising compared to the previous three decades. Child migrants made up 1.5% of all children worldwide and 14% of the entire migrant population in 2019 (UNICEF & IOM, 2021). Asia and Africa currently have the largest percentage of children among all foreign migrants, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean. However, children are also more likely to stay in their own global region when they relocate. According to the most recent statistics, young adults above the age of 18 are more likely to relocate to farther-flung regions like North America or Europe (UNICEF & IOM, 2021). 

Article 1 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as “every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier” (Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989). As there was no analogous document on the rights of youth at the time, it was envisioned that the Convention would offer protection and rights to the broadest age group conceivable (United Nations, n. d.). When it comes to defining the “youth”, there is no internationally accepted definition of the age group to which this notion refers. Generally, since the 1980s, the United Nations has been defining “youth” for statistical purposes as anyone between the ages of 15 and 24 without discrimination to any other classifications provided by Member States (UNICEF, IOM & UNMGCY, 2021; United Nations, n.d.). Notably, most countries tend to set a limit on youth in terms of the legal ‘age of majority,’ that is, the age at which a person starts to be treated equally vis-à-vis their peers before the law, with this age often being 18. Nevertheless, grounded on specific sociological, institutional, economic, and political considerations, different countries have applied and used different operational definitions and nuances of the term “youth” (United Nations, n. d.). Thus, both in research and policymaking, “children”, “youth” or “young people” are not defined in a single, universal way, with age range being a common differentiator to designate young people, even if these are not always consistent in diverse countries and socio-cultural contexts (Belmonte & McMahon, 2019). Moreover, regarding climate change, even though young people frequently deal with the same issues as those experienced by children, they are not entitled to the same safeguards afforded to them, as they are legally considered adults generally after reaching the age of 18 (UNICEF, et al., 2022). For example, the Convention on the Rights of the Child only applies to minors under the age of 18 years, with the youth being protected by the broader fundamental human rights frameworks and agreements (UNICEF, et al., 2022). 

What is the importance of these specific groups in society? Of the world’s population, which has already reached 8 billion by 2022, roughly 29% are currently under 18 years old and more specifically 25% are children between 0 and 14 years old (Traore Chazalnoël, Ionesco, & Duca, 2021; UN Population Fund, 2022). Moreover, based on an analysis of the literature, it can be suggested that young migration is a sort of mobility that is woven into larger familial and social transformations as well as continuing, formative personal shifts (Belmonte & McMahon, 2019) 

Today’s three-year-old children are set to grow up in a future of more severe weather occurrences, such as wildfires, floods, droughts, and storms, which are just progressively getting worse (UNICEF, IOM & UNMGCY, 2021). In sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, where the population is the youngest in the world and is expected to keep becoming younger until at least 2060, climate change represents a severe threat multiplier to those who live there (UNICEF, et al., 2022). By 2050, sub-Saharan Africa could see up to 85 million climate-related migrations, according to this region’s youthful population profile and World Bank Groundswell predictions (UNICEF, et al., 2022).  In that context, the offspring of immigrants are the fastest-growing segment of the child and youth population in many high- and middle-income countries around the world, holding an enormous transformative potential in socioeconomic and cultural terms for the host countries (Traore Chazalnoël, Ionesco, & Duca, 2021). 

As it has already been remarked, there is a growing understanding that climate change has a growing role as one of the many driving factors, directly and indirectly, regarding human mobility inside nations and across borders (Traore Chazalnoël, Ionesco, & Duca, 2021). Analogously, in terms of children and youth, many reside in locations that have been identified as vulnerable to climate change’s negative effects. For example, half a billion children currently reside in areas with extremely high flood risk, and approximately 160 million are located in areas with high or exceptionally high drought severity (Traore Chazalnoël, Ionesco, & Duca, 2021). Moreover, conflict, severe poverty, and a lack of access to basic amenities like sanitation and clean water tend to become intertwined problems that result in the enhancement of the vulnerability of these children and youth to natural disasters and other effects of climate change (Traore Chazalnoël, Ionesco, & Duca, 2021). In 2020, 9.8 million of the 30.1 million new weather – related internal displacements, connected or not to climate change, affected children,  which is equal to over 26,000 new weather-related child displacements happening per day (UNICEF UK, 2021). 

To conclude, it is important to recognize that with migration being a multi-cause event, there are several factors responsible for influencing a person’s decision and capability to move, and the other “push” and “pull” factors at play. However, the existence of a direct causal link between climate change and human displacement cannot be attested, despite the undeniable fact that the current climate crisis has an important and growing role to play in people’s decisions to move (or not). At the same time, it is also challenging to determine the precise number of people, and more specifically the precise number of children and youth, who relocate because of the climate crisis (Traore Chazalnoël, Ionesco, & Duca, 2021). What is certain is the fact that trade-offs that harm the environment in the name of economic progress cannot be justified as being in the best interest of the population in general and of children and young people as a whole (UNICEF, 2021b). 


IPCC, 2022. (2022). Summary for Policy Makers [H.-O.Pörtner, D.C.Roberts, E.S.Poloczanska, K.Mintenbeck, M.Tignor, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem (eds.)]. In Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of W. Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Ryan, E., Wakefield, J., & Luthen, S. (2021). Born into the Climate Crisis: Why we must act now to secure children’s rights. Save the Children International. 

Thiery, W., Lange, S., Rogelj, J., Schleussner, C., Gudmundsson, L., Seneviratne, S., . . . Wada, Y. (2021, September 26). Intergenerational inequities in exposure to climate extremes. Science, 374(6564), pp. 158-160. 

Traore Chazalnoël, M., Ionesco, D., & Duca, I. (2021). Children on the Move: Why, Where, How? Climate Mobility and Children: A Virtual Symposium. New York: UNICEF & IOM. 

UNICEF UK. (2021). Futures at risk – Protecting the rights of children on the move in a changing climate. London: UNICEF. 

UNICEF, & IOM. (2021). Climate Mobility and Children: A Virtual Symposium.

UNICEF, IOM & UNMGCY. (2021). Children uprooted in a changing climate: Turning challenges into opportunities with and for young people on the move. New York: UNICEF. 

UNICEF, IOM, Georgetown University, Institute for the Study of International Migration, United Nations University, & Center for Policy Research. (2022). Guiding Principles for Children on the Move in the Context of Climate Change.

United Nations. (n.d.). Youth. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from United Nations: https://www.un.org/en/global-issues/youth 

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