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Damning New Report Says Every Nation Undermining Children's Hopes for a Livable Planet

Children's "collective concerns must now be heard, and effective actions taken to prevent the next generation inheriting an irreversibly damaged planet."

Fridays for Future strikers

A new report from a World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and The Lancet commission calls for a new child-centric movement to address the climate and ecological crisis and exploitative marketing that are threatening the world's children. (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

A major new report released Wednesday says every nation on the planet is failing children because of the threats to their health and wellbeing from the climate and ecological crises and commercial exploitation.

The damming assessment comes from 40 global child and adolescent health experts in "A Future for the World's Children?" The expert commission was convened by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and the prestigious medical journal The Lancet.

"This report shows that the world's decision makers are, too often, failing today's children and youth: failing to protect their health, failing to protect their rights, and failing to protect their planet," said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who urged nations to seize the publication as a "wake-up call."

The climate crisis is already unleashing harmful impacts on children around the world, the report notes, and, thanks to the global community's failure to act with the ambition science requires, those impacts are set to worsen. "Under widely used business-as-usual scenarios, there is a 93% chance that global warming will exceed 4°C by the year 2100," says the report.

Runaway warming threatens "devastating health consequences," the report adds, as a result of "disruption of water and ecosystems, rising ocean levels, inundation of coastal cities and small island nations, increased mortality from heatwaves, proliferation of vector-borne disease, and a crisis of malnutrition because of disruption to food production systems."

But it's not only climate crisis undermining children's hopes for a livable planet.

As commission co-chair and former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark, explained, children are under a "commercial assault," which she linked to the obesity epidemic and poor health outcomes.

Children "are targeted by those who promote sugary drinks, fatty foods, so much salt—from the whole obesogenic environment," said Clark. 

"Children worldwide are also highly exposed to advertising for products nominally for use by adults only, such as alcohol, tobacco and e-cigarettes," the report says, and are victims of "insidious advertising which encourages formula feeding" over breastfeeding. Children's data and their images are also being exploited.

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And industry self-regulation just won't work, the report adds.

The commission provides the public with an interactive tool to see how individual countries fare on supporting a healthy childhood. The tool includes a "flourishing" ranking, which measures factors like children's health, nutrition, and education. By that assessment, the United States is ranked 39 out of 180 countries.

In terms of "Excess CO2 emissions relative to 2030 targets," the U.S. is at 500%. But the country is far from alone in failing in that area—the publication notes that "wealthier countries threaten the future of all children through excessive carbon emissions. "

The commission recommends the following solutions to the crisis, as noted in a press statement:

  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.

The U.S. is the sole U.N. country not to have ratified that treaty.

"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."

As a companion editorial at The Lancet stresses, the time to act is now.

"The power of children's voices has emerged over the past two years as a source of hope," reads the editorial. "Their collective concerns must now be heard, and effective actions taken to prevent the next generation inheriting an irreversibly damaged planet."

"There can be no excuses," it states, "and no time to lose."

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