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Children displaced in a changing climate: preparing for a future already underway

Wednesday 14 – Friday 16 February 2024 I WP3346

CHIldren displaced in a changing climate

In partnership with UNICEF and the Office of the Special Adviser on Solutions to Internal Displacement

Millions of children are being driven from their homes by weather-related events, exacerbated by climate change. Decisions to move can be forced and abrupt in the face of disaster, or as the result of pre-emptive evacuation or relocation – where lives may be saved, but many children still face the challenges that come with being uprooted from their homes. In the context of slow-onset climate processes, displacement can be driven by an interplay of socio-economic, political, and climate-related factors. Despite demonstrating extraordinary resilience and capabilities, their decisions to move often occur in a context of constrained life choices and eroding livelihoods, where children and young people are trapped between aspirations and hopes, a duty of care to their families and communities, and pressures to leave home.

Internal displacement – whether short-lived or protracted – can multiply climate-related risks for children and their families. In the aftermath of a disaster, children may become separated from their parents or caregivers, amplifying risks of exploitation, child trafficking, and abuse. Displacement can disrupt access to education school (with more than 10 million IDP children out of school) and healthcare, exposing children to malnutrition, disease, and inadequate immunisation, while overcrowded and under-resourced evacuation sites may themselves be in climate-vulnerable areas. At the same time, migration – despite the well-documented risks, is still seen as a rational adaptive response by millions of children and their families facing unsustainable conditions in their communities of origin as a result of growing climate-related pressures. And the problem of internal displacement is growing. Overall numbers of displaced have doubled in the last 10 years.  Conflict levels are at their highest point in three decades. Disasters are on the rise too, with climate change shaping more destructive weather events and a growing number of slow-onset disasters like sea-level rise, salinisation, and desertification. As a conservative estimate, the humanitarian system spent more than $6 billion assisting Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in 2023.

Internal displacement – and the solutions to resolve it – are also getting more complex. Displacement is increasingly the result of multiple factors, often conflict and climate interacting in negative ways. Climate change is intensifying disputes over scarce resources, reducing economic opportunities, and straining public institutions and infrastructure across the globe. In fact, 40% of all internal armed conflicts between 1950 and 2000 were linked to disputes over natural resources such as water, land and forests. The 20 countries with the highest vulnerability to climate change and lowest capacity to cope, hosted over 26 million IDPs at the end of 2022. And one quarter of countries with extremely high climate risk for children, according to UNICEF’s Children’s Climate Risk Index (CCRI), also have very high levels of displacement – with more than five per cent of the population displaced.

Participants at this Wilton Park dialogue explored the challenges and opportunities related to child displacement in the context of climate change. Grounding the discussion was an acknowledgement that we cannot address the challenge of climate change without also preparing for accelerating displacement and mobility; while children contribute the least to climate change, they are disproportionately affected by its impacts. At that same time, what is good for children, is good for everyone – prioritising children in climate-focused solutions can simultaneously help us achieve co-beneficial progress for their wider communities, populations and countries also at risk.

Participants agreed to step up efforts to position and include displaced children in evidence-based climate policy, action and financing – and establish a coalition of partners, including champion governments, donors and young people, committed to prevent/minimise risks of child displacement and prepare communities and child-critical services. Participants also emphasised the importance of ensuring climate finance flows to the most vulnerable communities and stressed the need to advance the design and implementation of more inclusive approaches through localisation and working both with and for displaced children and young people themselves.


Building a common vision to prevent and prepare for accelerating child displacement in the context of climate change 

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