Climate change poses serious risks on children

A joint study conducted by Unicef, UKM and UMS reveals that not much attention has been paid to climate change effects on children

by SHAFIQQUL ALIFF / pic credit:

UP TO 58% of Malaysian children are able to attend school, and the intensifying climate change poses serious risks for Malaysian children, particularly during times of extreme weather patterns caused by climate change.

A joint study conducted by Unicef Malaysia, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) and University Malaysia Sabah (UMS), revealed a startling fact that not much attention has been paid to climate change effects on children, hence, not all aspects of children’s rights are adequately considered in Malaysia’s governance framework on climate and the environment.

Unicef representative to Malaysia and special representative to Brunei Darussalam Dr Rashed Mustafa Sarwar said climate change is arguably the single greatest challenge to the realisation of children’s rights and threatens to undercut decades of global progress in improving children’s welfare.

He said Unicef as the world’s biggest organisation advocating for children’s rights, will continue to take the lead in protecting the environmental rights of children and ensuring their healthy development and wellbeing.

UKM Professor of Environmental and Occupational Epidemiology Dr Mazrura Sahani said climate change exacerbates existing inequalities and hardships for children in need.

She said climate change and environmental degradation impact everyone on the planet, but children face additional risks of exposure and have lower tolerance levels to climate and environmental risks.

“Extreme weather events in these areas impacted children’s schooling and education, increased barriers to access to basic health services and supplies such as food and water, lowered family income stability, and increased susceptibility to infectious diseases, thus exposing children to a wider range of health hazards.

“Children are the least equipped and empowered to combat climate change while bearing the brunt of the impacts of climate and weather-related disasters, such as floods and forest fires,” she said in the same statement.

She added that the analysis of policy and legal documents shows that children are often overlooked in the design and content of climate policies and processes.

Meanwhile, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ICCC) report raises the alarm for interventions from policymakers and key influencers to set in place child-sensitive climate change and environmental policies in Malaysia.

Presently, laws and policies relating to the environment do not recognise children as rights-holders and important stakeholders. Meanwhile, primary laws and policies governing children and public health do not address environmental issues.

This gap in legal frameworks weakens the protection of children’s health and wellbeing against climate change.

UMS Research and Innovation deputy vice chancellor Professor Dr Ramzah Dambul said Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the complex interconnections between the environment, health and the economy based on many studies.

She said the ICCC report underlines clearly what is at stake for the development and survival of children and generations to come.

The aftermath of the crisis is an opportune time for the country to rebuild sustainably, placing children and climate change at the top of the agenda.

“This must start with our National Recovery Plan. Now is the time to reimagine a world that makes children safer today, as well as tomorrow,” he said.

UKM Industry, Alumni and Community Partnerships deputy vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Norazah Mohd Nordin said children are more vulnerable and they are more exposed to various risks and effects of heat waves, extreme weather conditions such as storms, heavy downpours, and floods not only threaten the lives and safety of children, but also put them at risk of mental health problems.

Norazah said this has led to a lot of changes that the country is experiencing which affect children today due to climate change, environmental degradation, and pollution are intensifying in Malaysia alongside rapid development.

“We need to encourage and strengthen the cooperation between representatives from the government and private sectors, and explore ways to pool resources through public-private partnerships in addressing issues related to children, the environment and climate change.

“It is hoped that child-sensitive climate mitigation and adaptation plans can be implemented with suitable programmes and activities,” she added.