Friday, July 12, 2024

Half of out-of-School Children Live in Countries Most Vulnerable to Climate Change, with Philippines Latest to Shut Schools due to Extreme Weather


Around one in two out-of-school children and adolescents live in countries at the forefront of the climate crisis, according to new analysis by Save the Children. The figures come as extreme heat has forced hundreds of schools to shut in the Philippines this week [1], while in South Sudan, students are only just returning to school after two weeks of heatwave-induced school closures, which impacted tens of thousands of children. 

For the analysis, Save the Children looked at how many of the approximately 250 million children and adolescents worldwide that are not in primary or secondary education (covering ages 5 to 19) live in places most vulnerable to climate change [2]. We found that 50% of children missing out on school live in 36 countries which are most at risk of the negative effects of the climate crisis while being least able to adapt [3]. These countries however, only represent around a quarter of children of school age.

Globally, the countries that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are those that are poorest or most fragile, where children were already more likely to be out-of-school for reasons including conflict, poverty, disability and gender inequality. Climate change makes extreme weather events and natural disasters that impact education even more likely. Around 62 million children and adolescents in 27 countries have had their education disrupted by climate shocks since 2020 [4], resulting in significant long-term impact on learning, both from school closures and from increased heatwaves [5].

In South Sudan, which saw scorching temperatures of up to 45 °C as this year’s hot season hit much earlier than usual, the government ordered schools to close for two weeks. Temperatures in at least ten of the Philippine’s 17 regions meanwhile are expected to hit or exceed 42 °C this week, about 20 % higher than typically seen in April.  

Kelley Toole, Save the Children’s Interim Global Director Child Poverty, Climate&Urban, said: 

“The climate crisis is a child rights’ crisis and its effects on children’s right to learn is a stark reminder of this. The climate emergency threatens children’s ability to access education and has potentially life-long consequences for children who again are being forced to pay the price for a crisis they are the least responsible for. 

Unless we act to protect education from the negative effects of a changing climate, the impact on the futures of these children who already live in some of the countries where out-of-school rates are already highest will only be more pronounced. We cannot let inequality build upon inequality and injustice upon injustice.” 

More than 1 billion children, around half the world’s 2.2 billion children, live in countries highly susceptible to – and in many cases already experiencing – the effects of climate change. 

Climate shocks and extreme weather such as cyclones, floods, and fires often damage or destroy schools and can lead to the displacement of school-age children or force them to enter the workforce to support their families. Girls are particularly affected as they are less likely to return to school after a disaster or a climate shock. 

As the world’s leading independent child rights organization, Save the Children works in 116 countries, tackling climate across everything we do, including education.

Save the Children is part of Building the Climate Resilience of Children and Communities through the Education Sector (BRACE), a green schools initiative which provides finance to support education systems in vulnerable countries to construct climate-resilient and green schools, integrate climate change in school curricula and provide climate early warnings to schools. We are also part of the Climate Smart Education Systems initiative to strengthen the resilience and relevance of education to climate change and environmental degradation, while the Comprehensive School Safety Framework, endorsed by over 70 governments is central to our approach to address climate change and ensure children have continued access to learning.

Save the Children is calling for improved understanding of climate change’s impact on education, a greater focus on education as part of climate action and more climate and education investment globally, including in Africa, where the African Union has declared 2024 the Year of Education.  

[2] Save the Children used UNESCO data on children out of primary and secondary school and compared this to each country’s climate change risk score in terms of their capacity to improve resilience as per the University of Notre Dame’s Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN) Index which is available for 181 countries. We divided countries into quintiles based on their level of climate risk, then calculated how many out-of-school children are in each risk group (quintile). South Sudan, which was not covered by ND-GAIN, was placed in our top quintile as it is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change globally, according to the UN.   

[3] These countries are: Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, Benin, Burkina Faso, Bangladesh, Chad, Central African Rep, DR Congo, Congo, Comoros, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Micronesia, Guinea, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Myanmar, Mozambique, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Sudan, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Syria, Chad, Uganda, Yemen and Zimbabwe. 

[5] A Harvard University study in the US found that without air conditioning, each 1°F increase in school year temperature reduces the amount learned that year by one percent.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Save the Children.

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