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‘The first thing that I fear for my future is lack of rain and drought’: climate change and its impacts on adolescent capabilities in low- and middle-income countries

Research reports

Written by Nicola Jones

Hero image description: A boy in drought-affected area in the Afar Region looking for water and pasture for his donkeys – his livelihood Image credit:UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Tesfaye

Climate change is one of the most critical global challenges. The 2015 Paris Agreement acknowledges that climate change is ‘an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet’. Climate change is influencing the severity and frequency of climate-related hazards, including drought, floods, changes in weather patterns and seasonal rainfall. These shifts are coupled with contextual changes which increase vulnerability and decrease the capacity to prepare for, and recover from, climate-related hazards. Put together, these changes can result in indirect impacts on food security, water availability, migration patterns, health, and psychosocial well-being. From 1990 to 2015, it is estimated that the richest 10% of the world’s population were responsible for 52% of global cumulative carbon emissions, while the poorest 50% were responsible for just 7%. Yet low-income countries are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change. Many low-income countries will experience greater climate-related hazards such as increased daily temperature extremes and droughts. Additionally, people living in low-income countries are more vulnerable to the impacts of these hazards due to high reliance on agriculture and limited resources and infrastructure needed to prepare and recover from these events.

Children and future generations are also likely to face starker consequences. Children and youth are more vulnerable to both the direct impacts of climate change (such as injuries and death, and household poverty) as well as the indirect impacts (such as conflict and migration, and disruption to services central to children’s well-being including health and education). Climate change will exacerbate inequalities, with the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children at greatest risk. Children and their families living in poverty or with inadequate access to facilities to support their wellbeing will be more affected by weather and climate-related hazards such as drought or floods, and will have fewer resources to enable them to prepare for, cope with and recover from these events.

This report focuses on the unique experiences of adolescents in LMICs in the face of the current climate crisis, bringing to light some of the multidimensional challenges they face and calling attention to the multiple and intersecting layers of vulnerability they experience based on gender, age, socioeconomic, disability, geography or refugee status. The report is organised as follows: it begins with a brief overview of the evidence base on climate change and impacts on adolescent capabilities, and then presents our conceptual framework and the qualitative research methodology underpinning the report findings. It next turns to a discussion of the direct and indirect impacts of climate change on adolescents’ multidimensional capabilities, before concluding and outlining priority actions for policy, programming and evidence generation.

A boy in drought-affected area in the Afar Region looking for water and pasture for his donkeys – his livelihood
Megan Devonald, Nicola Jones and Workneh Yadete