Irish children flourishing but failure to meet CO2 emissions target threatens their future – WHO-UNICEF-Lancet report

19th February 2020

Health and future of every child worldwide under immediate threat from ecological degradation, climate change and exploitative marketing

Child playing, Glasgow

NEW YORK/ LONDON/ GENEVA/ DUBLIN, 19 February: No single country is adequately protecting children’s health, their environment and their futures, finds a landmark report released today by a Commission of over 40 child and adolescent health experts, convened by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and The Lancet.

The report, A Future for the World’s Children?, finds that the health and future of every child and adolescent worldwide is under immediate threat from ecological degradation, climate change and exploitative marketing practices that push heavily processed fast food, sugary drinks, alcohol and tobacco at children.

Ireland is ranked 5th when it comes to child flourishing indicators, such as health, education, and nutrition – however the report finds that wealthy countries, including Ireland, threaten every child’s future through insufficient action to tackle climate change. It ranks Ireland in the bottom 30 countries worldwide (154th) when it comes to delivering on emissions targets and warns that Ireland is currently on track to emit 208% more CO2 than its 2030 emissions target.

The report finds that although there’s been significant progress in child and adolescent health achieved over the last 20 years, progress has now stalled – and all children worldwide face an uncertain future – as rapidly changing threats from the climate crisis, pollution and predatory commercial marketing intensify.

“From the climate crisis to obesity and harmful commercial marketing, children around the world are having to contend with threats that were unimaginable just a few generations ago,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “It is time for a rethink on child health, one which places children at the top of every government’s development agenda and puts their well-being above all considerations.”

Climate change threatens every child’s future

The report includes a new global index of 180 countries, comparing performance on child flourishing, including measures of child survival and well-being, such as health, education, and nutrition; sustainability, with a proxy for greenhouse gas emissions, and equity, or income gaps. [Top & Bottom 10 countries; Interactive Index] [1]

According to the report, while the poorest countries need to do more to support their children’s ability to live healthy lives, excessive carbon emissions – disproportionately from wealthier countries – threaten the future of all children. If global warming exceeds 4°C by the year 2100 in line with current projections, this will lead to devastating health consequences for children, due to rising ocean levels, heatwaves, proliferation of diseases like malaria and dengue, and malnutrition.

The index shows that children in Ireland join children in Norway, the Republic of Korea, and the Netherlands to have the best chance at survival and well-being, while children in Central African Republic, Chad, Somalia, Niger and Mali face the worst odds. However, when authors took per capita CO2 emissions into account, the top countries trail behind: Ireland ranked 154, Norway ranked 156, the Republic of Korea 166, and the Netherlands 160. Each of the three emits 210% more CO2 per capita than their 2030 target (Ireland is 208%). The United States of America (USA), Australia, and Saudi Arabia are among the ten worst emitters.

Harmful commercial marketing preys on children – with childhood obesity increasing 11-fold

The report also highlights the distinct threat posed to children from harmful marketing. Evidence suggests that children in some countries see as many as 30,000 advertisements on television alone in a single year, while youth exposure to vaping (e-cigarettes) advertisements increased by more than 250% in the USA over two years, reaching more than 24 million young people.

Professor Anthony Costello, one of the Commission’s authors, said: “Industry self-regulation has failed. Studies in Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and the USA – among many others – have shown that self-regulation has not hampered commercial ability to advertise to children. For example, despite industry signing up to self-regulation in Australia, children and adolescent viewers were still exposed to 51 million alcohol ads during just one year of televised football, cricket and rugby. And the reality could be much worse still: we have few facts and figures about the huge expansion of social media advertising and algorithms aimed at our children.”

Children’s exposure to commercial marketing of junk food and sugary beverages is associated with purchase of unhealthy foods and overweight and obesity, linking predatory marketing to the alarming rise in childhood obesity. The number of obese children and adolescents increased from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016 – an 11-fold increase, with dire individual and societal costs.

A manifesto for immediate action on child and adolescent health

To protect children, the independent Commission authors call for a new global movement driven by and for children. Specific recommendations include:

1. Stop CO2 emissions with the utmost urgency, to ensure children have a future on this planet;

2. Place children and adolescents at the centre of our efforts to achieve sustainable development;

3. New policies and investment in all sectors to work towards child health and rights;

4. Incorporate children’s voices into policy decisions;

5. Tighten national regulation of harmful commercial marketing, supported by a new Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“This report shows that the world’s decision makers are failing today’s children and youth: failing to protect their health, failing to protect their rights, and failing to protect their planet,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization said. “This must be a wakeup call for countries to invest in child health and development, ensure their voices are heard, protect their rights, and build a future that is fit for children.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

[1] About the index; please see pp. 35-38 of the report, with technical details in the Annex, pp. 19-72

This Commission was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Top & Bottom 10 countries: http://www.thelancet-press.com/embargo/childhealthINFOG.png Interactive Index: https://www.thelancet.com/infographics/child-health

Data tables available on request.

About UNICEF

UNICEF works in the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. For more information about UNICEF and its work, visit our website. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook

For more information or to set up interviews with report authors, please contact

Aedín Donnelly, Communications and Media Manager for UNICEF Ireland | aedin@unicef.ie | Tel: +353 1 809 0291 | Mob: +353 85 1395272