How many of the world’s richest countries are providing a healthy environment in which children can live, develop and thrive? As this question is raised, a new report by UNICEF points out that over-consumption in the world’s richest countries is creating unhealthy, dangerous, and toxic conditions for children globally.
The latest Innocenti Report Card 17, Places and Spaces compares how 39 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and European Union (EU) impact children’s environments. The report states that if the entire world consumed resources at the rate of OECD and EU countries, the equivalent of 3.3 earths would be needed to keep up with consumption levels.
“If it were at the rate at which people in Canada, Luxembourg and the United States do, at least five earths would be needed,” according to the report. Director of the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti Gunilla Olsson said; “Not only are the majority of rich countries failing to provide healthy environments for children within their borders, they are also contributing to the destruction of children’s environments in other parts of the world,”
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• Based on CO2 emissions, e-waste and overall resource consumption per capita, Australia, Belgium, Canada and the United States are among other wealthy countries that rank low on creating a healthy environment for children within and beyond their borders.
• Finland, Iceland and Norway are among those that provide healthier environments for their country’s children but disproportionately contribute to destroying the global environment.
• Colombia (3.7) and Mexico (3.7) have the highest number of years of healthy life lost (per 1,000 children under 15) due to air pollution. Japan (0.2) and Finland (0.2) have the lowest.
• In the world’s richest countries, one in 25 children is poisoned by lead, a toxicant responsible for more deaths than malaria, war and terrorism; or natural disasters.
• In Czechia, Poland, Belgium, Israel and the Netherlands, more than 1 in 12 children live in areas with a high pesticide pollution risk
• Noise pollution is highest in Malta, the Netherlands and Portugal
• In Denmark, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Iceland, Hungary and Portugal, more than one child in five is exposed to damp and mould.
• In seven countries, more than one household in four, suffers from overcrowding – which has adverse effects on children’s learning outcomes.
• In an average country, 1.34 years of healthy life are lost per 1,000 children due to traffic accidents – ranging from less than one year (0.65) in Sweden, Iceland, Malta and Ireland to over three years in Colombia, Turkey and Mexico.
“In some cases we are seeing countries providing relatively healthy environments for children at home while being among the top contributors to pollutants that are destroying children’s environments abroad,” attested Gunilla Olsson, Director of UNICEF Office of Research.
- Focus on children now, to protect their futures: Governments at the national regional and local level need to lead on improvements to children’s environments today, by reducing waste, air and water pollution, and by ensuring high-quality housing and neighbourhoods where children can live, develop and thrive.
- Improve environments for the most vulnerable children: To reduce inequalities, national, regional and local governments and authorities should prioritize investments designed to improve the quality of housing and neighbourhood conditions for the poorest families, so that all children have environments that are fit for them to grow up in. Ensure that environmental policies are child sensitive
- Involve children, the main stakeholders of the future
- Take global responsibility, now and for the future; Governments and businesses, through regulations and/or incentives, should identify and mitigate their global impact on the environment. Governments should take effective action now to honour the environmental commitments they have made to the Sustainable Development Goals, including to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.